PARIS--Yuzu, a Japanese lime widely used to enhance the flavor of winter dishes in Japan, may soon become an indispensable seasonal offering in Europe.
Thanks to the efforts of local officials in Kochi Prefecture, Japan's first export of yuzu to France arrived in November.
Jerome Banctel, chef at Senderens, a Paris restaurant with two Michelin stars, welcomed the import, saying the French will love its aroma.
"Yuzu gives off strong aroma even when you just hold one in your hand," Banctel, 40, said. "Coupled with its bright color, if you shave off its peel in front of guests, like you do with truffles, they will love it."
Banctel, who has used the citrus in some dishes, first encountered yuzu six years ago on a trip to Japan.
"As soon as I smelled the aroma of yuzu, which is not grown in Europe, some recipe ideas came to my mind, such as mixing it with root vegetables and chestnuts," he recalled.
Banctel has been eager to try other exotic ingredients, such as miso (fermented soybean paste) and cherry tree leaves from Japan.
He began using the processed products of yuzu--powder of dried yuzu peel and yuzu juice--four years ago.
The fruit, known for its strong scent and acidic taste, gradually gained recognition among the French, who incorporated it into fragrances and chocolates as well.
French chefs' desire to import the fresh fruit came at the same time agricultural officials in Kochi Prefecture, the largest producer of yuzu, were stepping up efforts to export its winter specialty.
The prefecture accounts for half of the Japanese market for yuzu, producing 10,000 tons a year.
Prefectural officials worked to raise the profile of the fruit, with Banctel's restaurant serving as the venue for a yuzu-tasting event that Kochi officials held in June last year.
But Japanese and French officials still had to go through the hectic work of making detailed arrangements for the import and export of perishable yuzu before the citrus was actually allowed into the French market, and the required procedures for quarantine were finally set in February.
Many countries have strict regulations in place to prevent the spread of insect pests and diseases.
According to Top Trading Co., which was involved in the export of yuzu, the first shipment to France began in November, and a total of 10 tons is expected to be sent to France.
"In the past, the smell of white truffles imported from Italy was the harbinger of the arrival of winter," Banctel said. "Yuzu from Japan will eventually join the ranks of seasonal scent in Europe."
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