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Kabosu is a small fruit, averaging 4 to 5 centimeters in diameter, and has a round to ovate shape with a characteristic small, indented bump at the apex. The rind is relatively smooth, glossy, and pebbled, lightly textured with prominent oil glands, and the surface ripens from green to bright yellow with maturity. Underneath the rind, there is a semi-thin pith encasing 10 to 12 segments of aqueous, soft flesh. The pale-yellow flesh contains many small seeds and emits a subtle and refreshing, citrus-forward fragrance. Kabosu can be used in its immature green phase or mature, bright yellow state. The flesh is sweet, tart, and acidic, slightly less sour and floral than yuzu, and carries notes of mint, lemons, and melons.
Kabosu is available in the fall.
Kabosu, botanically classified as Citrus sphaerocarpa, is a rare citrus variety belonging to the Rutaceae family. The ancient, small fruits are native to China, but in the modern-day, the variety is primarily found in Japan, cultivated by a limited number of growers within the Oita Prefecture. Kabosu is closely related to the famous citrus, yuzu, and is utilized similarly to flavor sauces, juices, seafood, and main dishes. The fruits also grow on evergreen trees that are favored as a unique home garden variety in Japan, considered highly ornamental for their delicate, fragrant flowers and brightly colored fruits. Once harvested, the entire fruit is traditionally used in Japan, infusing the juice into culinary dishes, integrating pieces of the rind as an air freshener, and utilizing the rind oils as a natural mosquito repellent.
Kabosu is a good source of vitamin C to protect the body against free radical damage, strengthen the immune system, and reduce inflammation. The citrus juice also provides potassium to regulate fluid levels within the body, folate to develop genetic material, and other nutrients to cleanse the liver and stabilize blood pressure.
Kabosu is known for its acidic juice, customarily used as a tart flavoring in both raw and cooked applications. In Japan, the fruit’s sharp juice is used as a substitute for vinegar and is mixed into sauces, dressings, and marinades to create a sour and bright taste. The juice can also be incorporated into soups, seafood, sashimi, and noodle-based dishes, or it can be used to flavor cocktails and bottled beverages. In addition to savory preparations, Kabosu juice is commonly mixed into baked goods, custards, and wagashi, which are traditional sweets served as bite-sized snacks for dessert or afternoon tea. The flesh can also be cooked with sugar into a sweet-tart marmalade, used year-round to provide bright citrus flavors. Kabosu pairs well with aromatics such as ginger, garlic, and shallots, green tea, herbs such as mint, coriander, and basil, meats such as poultry, pork, and beef, seafood including scallops, shrimp, crab, and fish, and fruits such as pomegranates, raspberries, peaches, cherries, and nectarines. Whole, unwashed Kabosu will keep 1 to 2 weeks when stored in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator.
Kabosu is primarily cultivated within the Oita Prefecture on the island of Kyushu in Japan. Within the region, the fruits are widely found at local markets and are used as a flavoring, but outside of Oita, Kabosu is rare and challenging to find. In 2003, a mascot was designed to help market Kabosu to other regions of Japan. The mascot was named Kabotan, and the animated character is a Kabosu citrus drawn with a cartoon, circular body, featuring many human characteristics, and the green mascot also prominently displays a signature heart on the center of the stomach. Kabotan is often found on packaging, signs, and social media posts for the citrus variety, and workers in a life-size Kabotan character costume also walk around festivals and events to take photos with attendees. In addition to its appearance, Kabotan also has a character story centered around promoting Oita, including the mascot’s love of hot springs, which are famous in the prefecture.
Kabosu was discovered growing as a chance seedling in China during ancient times. While the exact origins are unknown, experts believe the variety may have been developed from a natural cross between a sour orange and an ichang papeda. Sometime during the Edo period, Kabosu was introduced to Japan, and legend has it that a doctor from Kyoto planted the first Kabosu tree in the Oita Prefecture. Today over ninety percent of Kabosu citrus in Japan is produced in Oita, specifically in the areas of Usuki and Taketa, and two-hundred-year-old trees can still be found producing seasonal fruits. Outside of Japan, the variety is grown as specialty citrus in home gardens and small farms in China.
Recipes that include Kabosu Citrus. One is easiest, three is harder.