Yuzu’s Lesser-known Cousin Fruits Fight for a Spot in the Kitchen

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Oita Prefecture’s kabosu, left, and Tokushima Prefecture’s sudachi citrus fruits

Kabosu from Oita Prefecture and sudachi from Tokushima Prefecture. Two green citrus fruits that might have once brawled to a pulp for the little market space left to them by their cousins, the lemon and the yuzu.

But now there’s a truce. In a bid to boost sales, kabosu and sudachi producers have agreed to work together, and turned their old rivalry to mutual advantage.

On Sept. 16, Oita and Tokushima were battling it out in two venues in Oita City.

As the J2 League match between Oita Trinita and Tokushima Vortis was about to kick off in Resonac Dome Oita, another showdown was taking place at a special booth outside the stadium. At the latter event, people tried kabosu and sudachi and voted for the fruit they thought superior. The kabosu team scored 558 votes — thanks to being the home team — to 220 votes for sudachi.

The seed for this collaboration was sown back in March. A representative from Oita and kabosu farmers visited a sudachi-producing region in Tokushima and asked if they could work together to promote their citruses.

The two sides then decided to hold tasting events alongside J2 soccer matches, including one between teams from the two prefectures. In August, a promotional event was also held in Tokyo, where they sold citrus products and special boxed lunches and offered fresh juice samples.

According to the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry, the kabosu harvest in 2020 came to 5,967.9 tons, with 99% of the fruit grown in Oita Prefecture, while the sudachi harvest totaled 3,846 tons, with 98% coming from Tokushima Prefecture.

The prefectures have a firm squeeze on these markets, but the more common citruses still dominate: The same year saw a lemon harvest of 8,634.7 tons and a yuzu harvest of 24,459.4 tons. Those yuzu were worth ¥5.1 billion, compared to ¥1.9 billion for the kabosu crop and ¥2 billion for sudachi.

Most kabosu and sudachi sold in Japan are produced here. And since they both come mainly from one prefecture, they are more susceptible to crop failure than lemons, which are grown both in Japan and abroad.

“Quite a few people in urban areas know about kabosu but have never used it,” said a spokesperson at the Oita prefectural government’s Tokyo office.

Both prefectures are also facing an aging population of farmers. Oita Prefecture helps those in other industries, such as construction, make the switch to kabosu farming. Farm area for the fruit has even grown slightly since fiscal 2015.

While more kabosu are grown than sudachi, there are high expectations for joint publicity.

“In the Kanto region, there is a culture of using sudachi, and the publicity will be beneficial for kabosu as well,” the spokesperson said.

Kai Yamamoto, 30, of Oita Prefecture’s branding section, said, “Next time, we’ll hold an event in Tokushima, and we’ll try to get people to experience the appeal of kabosu.”

“We were the away team at this event but people said they like sudachi,” said Masaya Sogawa, 30, of horticulture department of the National Federation of Agricultural Cooperative Association Tokushima branch. “We aim to bring out the best of both kabosu and sudachi.”