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Japanese Fruits 101 – Different Varieties, Health Benefits, and How to Eat Them

  • 9 min read

What you may not know about Japan is that fruits are one of its major exports. In fact, according to one statistic from the Japanese agricultural authority, the nation’s total fruit exports in 2021 were about 5.8 billion JPY, which was 25.8% greater than that in 2020 in spite of restrictions of global trade and sales channels triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. This implies that Japanese fruits are also gaining popularity from overseas consumers.

Do you want to know more about what kind of fruits are often-consumed in Japan, how these will benefit your health, and how they are eaten or used? In this article, we would like to introduce 10 Japanese fruits including:

  • Kaki (persimmon)
  • Biwa (loquat)
  • Yuzu citrus
  • Nashi (Japanese pear)
  • Ume (Japanese apricot)
  • Grape
  • Mikan (mandarin orange)
  • Sumomo (Japanese plum)
  • Kabosu citrus
  • Sudachi citrus

1. Kaki (Persimmon)

Persimmon, also globally known as kaki, is one of the fruits that has been consumed in Japan since ancient times. Most of them have a round or oval shape, with both the skin and flesh having a vibrant orange color. This fruit is categorized as shibugaki or amagaki: the former means “astringent kaki” and literally has a strong astringency, which means that it remains tannic even if it gets ripe, while the latter translates as “sweet kaki”, which becomes less astringent and sweeter when it ripens, thus making it easier to eat than shibugaki.

As the old Japanese proverb says, “when the persimmon gets red, the doctor gets pale”, and this fruit helps to prevent you from cancer risks thanks to a rich quantity of cryptoxanthin and lycopene. Also high in a polyphenol called astragalin, it’s effective against allergies and hay fever. Kaki’s astringency is derived from tannins, and it’s useful for reducing hangovers. Along with these medicinal effects, Kaki is rich in vitamin C, carotene, and dietary fiber.

Dehydrating the kaki makes it much tastier because it gets sweeter and more nutritious, and this dried kaki is called hoshigaki. Although it’s a winter season exclusive, you can experience our premium Ichidagaki that has received a number of 5-star reviews from our customers. It’s also said that persimmon tannin has strong antibacterial and deodorization effects and there are soaps made from a kaki essence; see the Pelican Body Soap and Deo Tanning Bar Soap which are both available at our shop.

Kaki (Persimmon)

2. Biwa (Loquat)

Biwa is said to be native to China, but it has been cultivated in Japan since the Edo period (1603 ~ 1867). Since the fruit gets ripe in early summer, it’s recognized as one of the common sights during this season. The fruit has a yellowish-orange color, and its skin is slightly downy while the taste is delicately sweet-sour. Biwa contains many seeds inside the fruit that take up a large deal of space, so this fruit normally doesn’t have many edible parts. However, with many breed improvements, seedless and meaty cultivars have started to show up at supermarkets in Japan.

Its core nutrition, β-carotene and citric acid, enhances your skin condition and reduces fatigue, respectively. What is also abundant in biwa is chlorogenic acid, a polyphenol that helps protect you from diabetes, fatty liver, and cancer. Even the biwa leaf has a wide range of health promotion uses; for instance, if you drink a tea made with biwa leaves you can reduce diarrhea and chronic pain. Additionally, a herbal bath that contains biwa leaves helps alleviate skin itchiness and irritation. Other uses for loquat fruit include juice, jam, confectionary seasoning, and fruit liquor.

Biwa (Loquat)

3. Yuzu Citrus

When asked a question like “what is a typical citrus fruit in Japan”, some of you may answer yuzu. This fruit was introduced from China in the Nara period (A.D. 710 ~ 784) and has been consumed in Japan since then. A mature yuzu has a beautiful yellow color while an immature one has green skin and light green pulp. Generally, it’s not very common to consume raw yuzu because it’s too sour to eat.

Yuzu is one of the top-class citruses in terms of vitamin C content, and it also contains potassium and citric acid. A yuzu peel has more vitamin C than the fruit pulp so it’s best to mix grated peel with mayonnaise or your favorite dressing. Yuzu goes well in a bath: simply put some pieces of whole yuzu in a bathtub and take a bath, and relax in the hot water filled with a natural essence. This enables you to hydrate your skin efficiently.

Tangy in taste and smell, yuzu makes everything literally “refreshing”. One typical example is ponzu, a soy sauce-based condiment that gives your dishes a savory flavor and clean aftertaste. Yuzu is even used for cosmetics; for example, our Matsuyama M-Mark lotion and hand cream have a yuzu essence which plays a role as a skin moisturizer and natural fragrance. The more you learn about yuzu, the more you realize what a wide range of uses it has.

Yuzu Citrus

4. Nashi (Japanese Pear)

For those who love eating pears, have you ever tried nashi? Nashi is another representative fruit unique to Japan but there are many differences with its European counterpart. In terms of appearance, nashi is yellowish or light brownish and has a round shape like an apple while the European pear is light green or yellow, and is balloon- or lightbulb-shaped. Nashi has a balanced taste of sweetness and sourness while the European pear tends to be sweeter than the Japanese one. Both are similar in having a unique “gritty” texture, but nashi is often grainier while the European one also has a melty bite feeling.

Because of its decent juiciness, nashi is one of the best foods for rehydrating yourself to prevent heatstroke during summer. Rich in indigestible sorbitol, this fruit can play a role as a natural medicine that can improve your intestines. Furthermore, nashi is rich in protease: a protein degrading enzyme that supports better digestion and is useful for softening tough, stringy meats. If you rub a steak with a grated nashi and refrigerate it for 3 ~ 5 hours, you will really notice the difference.

Nashi (Japanese Pear)

5. Ume (Japanese Apricot)

Ume, also known as Japanese apricot / plum, is traditionally used as a Chinese medicine because of its wide range of health benefits. Ume is usually harvested between May and July, and it’s said that roughly 75% of the domestic ume production comes from Wakayama Prefecture. An immature ume fruit is tough, vividly green in color, and very sour; however, it gets softer, turns yellow or partly pinkish-red, and the sourness gets milder. Most of these harvested ume will be pickled and shipped all across Japan to be sold as umeboshi (pickled apricot).

Common sense tells you that sour foods have many health benefits, and ume is no exception. It has a good supply of citric acid that is effective against bad bacteria in your intestines. It also has a composition unique to cooked ume called mumefural, a type of phytochemical that improves blood flow and enhances the fatigue reduction effect of the citric acid.

Ume has various uses including umeboshi, umesu (vinegar made from a solution of umeboshi processing), juice, jam, and umeshu (Japanese ume wine). These foods and drinks have a sour and tangy flavor, so it’s convenient for refreshing your mouth after you eat greasy dishes.

Ume (Japanese Apricot)

6. Grape

How do you and people in your country consume grapes, such as in wine or raisins? Is eating raw grapes common in your country? In Japan, grapes are very often eaten raw, but interestingly Japanese grapes have become increasingly popular among consumers overseas. For instance, in some Asian nations like Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore, it’s customary to send fruits to someone as a gift, and Japanese grapes are increasingly chosen nowadays.

Here are the three most major known grape breeds among Japanese and overseas consumers. First is Kyoho; it translates as “large mountain” because it was originally cultivated near Mt. Fuji. This is the very standard grape in Japan which has large berries with an exquisite harmony of sweetness and sourness. Second is Pione, it’s another strong-selling black grape in Japan that has a meaty texture, elegant sweet taste, and large berries (usually larger than Kyoho). The third is a white grape called Shine Muskat. Excellent in sweetness, supreme in aroma, and featuring seedless berries that are unusual in white grapes, this premium fruit is a must-eat for grape fans.

Did you know that Japan has been selling a Japanese wine called Nihon Wine since late 2018? Nihon Wine refers to state-designated wines that are made from grapes harvested in Japan and processed in Japan from beginning to the end. It’s said that these wines have a delicate taste that goes well with Japanese cuisine.

Grape

7. Mikan (Mandarin Orange)

The mikan is another representative Japanese citrus fruit. It is as small as a tennis ball and often tastes very sweet, but also has a slight sourness. What makes mikan different from other citrus fruits is its skin: it is so soft and thin that you can easily peel it with your bare hand. While it is normally eaten raw, it is also tasty after both cooking and freezing.

When you eat mikan, you’ll find the fruit covered with a white, stringy susbtance. Although it may look nasty, don’t peel it off because these strings have plenty of vitamin P and a polyphenol called hesperidin that are effective against a cold-sensitive constitution. In addition, consumption of a whole mikan accounts for approximately 35g of vitamin C, which is equal to a third of the recommended daily amount for vitamin C for adults. This fruit is good for both your total health and beauty.

Mikan can be used in various ways. Simply squeeze it to make a juice, jam, and puree for yogurt or ice cream; slice it to make a mikan pie or mikan orangette; or add peeled mikan pulp to make a juicy, tangy salad.

Mikan (Mandarin Orange)

8. Sumomo (Japanese Plum)

Back to ume, this fruit is called Japanese apricot or Japanese plum in English for convenience’s sake, but scientifically it refers to Japanese apricot while Japanese plum corresponds to sumomo. Sumomo is another traditionally consumed Japanese fruit that has dark pink or sometimes dark purple skin and yellow-orange flesh.

Freshly harvested sumomo is unsuitable for eating because it’s still tough and very sour, so it’s usually preserved at normal temperature for 3 ~ 7 days. With this process, it gets sweeter in taste, stronger in aroma, and softer in texture. One thing you should note is that it goes off quicker than most fruits so it’s best to consume it as soon as possible. You can extend its freshness date by storing it in a fridge. In Japan, a jam or sake made with sumomo is available at grocery stores.

Sumomo is rich in sugars like glucose and fructose, as well as malic acid, dietary fiber, potassium, and folic acid. By eating this fruit regularly, possible health benefits include an improvement of the immune system, prevention of diabetes and arteriosclerosis, more stable blood pressure, and an increase in red blood cells. On the other hand, dried sumomo is a great source of minerals including niacin, iron, zinc, copper, manganese, and potassium.

Sumomo (Japanese Plum)

9. Kabosu Citrus

Kabosu is another Japanese citrus fruit that has a refreshing acidic flavor. Although many people have difficulty in distinguishing kabosu from unripened green yuzu and sudachi, there are several tips that will help you to identify the three fruits correctly. The easiest way is to check its size: normally, kabosu is as large as a tennis ball and is the largest among the three. You can also discern the difference between these green citruses by touching their skin: kabosu and sudachi have smooth skin while yuzu skin is rugged.

Like other citrus fruits, kabosu is rich in citric acid, vitamin C, and potassium. It also has aromatic components such as pinene, limonene, and terpene, which are said to provide the effects of relaxation and stress alleviation. Kabosu can reduce sore muscles and fatigue as the citric acid supports the decomposition of lactic acid.

As a food, kabosu is mild in sourness and is sweeter than other citruses. When its juice is used as a condiment, it can enhance the flavor of grilled fish and meats without disrupting their original flavor. Its rich mineral content means that it also has an intense salty taste, so you can use kabosu juice as a substitute for salt while lowering your intake of sodium. You can also enjoy its fresh flavor by adding its squeezed juice into a cup of spirits or soy sauce to create an original ponzu sauce.

 

Kabosu Citrus

10. Sudachi Citrus

Sudachi is a tiny citrus fruit that is mainly produced in Tokushima Prefecture. Although its size is the smallest (almost close to that of a golf ball) among the three green citrus fruits (kabosu, yuzu, and sudachi), sudachi has an intense aroma and is ideal for giving dishes a pleasant flavor. Its strong scent pairs well with strongly-flavored foods including matsutake mushrooms or grilled saury. You can add its juice to create a tangy alcoholic drink, or add a slice of sudachi to your cup of tea to make a fruit tea.

What makes sudachi unique in terms of nutrition is that it includes a type of polyphenol called sudachitin. Research shows that this component is expected to promote sugar metabolism, restrain cancer development, and improve diabetes and lifestyle diseases. It is said that sudachi’s skin is more nutritious than its flesh, so for the best health benefits, it is recommended that you consume the sudachi skin by grating it and mixing it with other dishes. Other typical nutrients rich in sudachi include citric acid, vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin E, calcium, and edible fiber. By consuming sudachi on a regular basis, you can also improve swelling, promote blood circulation, and improve your skin health.

Sudachi Citrus