(Aka Ponzu Sauce) Made from Scratch
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Hey there readers! I actually got to travel to Japan to learn more about yuzu citrus and making ponzu shoyu thanks to this recipe! Click here if you want to learn more about my amazing trip!
Ponzu sauce (properly ponzu shoyu, but usually simply referred to as ponzu) is a Japanese citrus-based sauce (often yuzu or lemon), popularly used as a condiment for sashimi, tataki, shabu-shabu, and other dishes. It's also popular as an ingredient in a variety of Japanese-style western dishes.
There's really no excuse for a bad ponzu sauce. It's so simple to make, and yet plenty of recipes out there cut corners (or depart from the formula entirely). Don't get me wrong, a sauce made out of citrus and soy alone (with or without sugar) might be very tasty, and it might go very nicely with a particular dish, but calling it ponzu is just misleading. The problem is that the salt of the shoyu (soy sauce) and the bright, brassy citrus taste gets all the attention while the other key ingredients get ignored.
Ponzu should be much more than just citrus and soy sauce. It should also have a sweetness, umami, and a subtle alcohol taste. As far as sweetness is concerned, ponzu should be mildly sweet, not a sticky-sweet syrup. You can adjust to your tastes of course, but sweetness should not be over-emphasized. On the converse, I think that the savoury, umami flavour gets ignored most often, and I tend to think that this is because people don't want to bother buying or using kombu or katsuobushi. Some of this is inexperience - both ingredients can seem a little intimidating until you learn how simple they are to use (check out this and this for more information). Happily, ponzu is so good and so simple to make, it only demonstrates how easy it is to use (and use up!) those ingredients once you've bought them. Ponzu also serves another important purpose: it demonstrates how umami building ingredients can enhance a dish without overpowering it. Despite the fact that ponzu contains both kelp and dried fish, there's nothing briny or fishy about it; the final product tastes clean, bright, and rich.
This might be the best recipe to get started with if you're interested in learning to use Japanese pantry staples. I realize that some of these ingredients can seem unfamiliar or a little intimidating, but they're very easy to use - especially here. Make sure you check the Pantry Pages linked below for more information on Kombu, Katsuobushi, and Mirin. These three ingredients are wildly important flavour building blocks, so you want to make sure they get a chance to shine. While you'll get a lot from reading the Pantry Pages, I have given a few brief notes to help you make the best of the recipe.
If you can't get good mirin, I do not recommend using a sugary mirin-like condiment (for an explanation of this problem, keep reading here), as the final product will be too sweet. Instead, omit the mirin, double the sake, and add extra sugar to taste.
If you plan to use this sauce as a marinade or a reduction, you may want to consider reducing the soy sauce by about 1/4. The salt can become quite pronounced as the water evaporates or is absorbed, so reducing the soy sauce lets the other ingredients shine through.
Refrigerate your ponzu after you've finished letting it steep. It will keep for up to a month. If you're looking for something to use it with (other than sashimi - which is awesome), try out this easy but amazing beef tataki recipe, or this incredible Japanese take on the hamburger.
Now that I've ranted a little about what you shouldn't do with ponzu, let's talk about what you can do. In Japan, ponzu would traditionally be made with one or more of the native citrus species, with yuzu, sudachi, kabosu, and daidai coming in a the top of the list. Outside of Japan, most of those fruits are rather hard to get a hold of. As a result, lemon is commonly used as the citrus base. Yuzu juice is increasingly available in Japanese grocery stores and it does work very well, but it can be expensive. A mixture of Seville orange and lemon juice also works quite well, but suffers from similar problems related availability. But don't worry - if lemon is all you can get, you'll still make a great sauce.
As for the other ingredients, I wouldn't recommend departing from the recipe too much, but you can adjust the sugar slightly (up or down) depending on your tastes. Once again, take note of my comments above and on the relevant Ingredient Page regarding quality mirin and sweetness.
For a gluten-free version, you can use tamari (wheat-free Japanese soy sauce) in place of soy sauce. That being said, tamari has a rather bold flavour, so you might want to tweak the citrus and sugar components a little bit to suit your tastes.
Lastly, you can make this a vegan/vegetarian sauce by omitting the katsuobushi. The sauce won't be quite as rich, but it will still be good. If you have liquid from dehydrating shiitake mushrooms, consider adding a little (1-2 tbsp) to round out the flavour.
Japanese yuzu juice. Pricey, but tasty.
Nutritional information is shown for 1 tbsp of ponzu (1/16th of the total recipe).
This is a sauce, so you're not going to be drinking it straight or consuming huge amounts of it (though it is good), so any nutritional impact, good or bad, will generally be fairly small. Unlike many sauces and marinades, it's extremely low in fat and sugar.
The amount of shoyu (soy sauce) means there's a lot of sodium - but don't let the numbers in the nutritional information label scare you too much. For starters, that includes the leftover solids, which will soak up a lot of salt. It also refers to the entire recipe (about 1 cup of liquid), and you'll likely only be consuming a very small amount of this. As a dip (e.g. for sashimi) you only need a teaspoons or two.
No ingredient pages have been written yet for any of the ingredients in this recipe. Like to see one? Let me know in the comments below or by email.
Ponzu Shoyu (aka Ponzu Sauce) - from Scratch
- 50 ml yuzu or lemon juice (a little under 1/4 cup)
- yuzu or lemon rinds and seeds
- 50 ml sake (a little under 1/4 cup)
- 50 ml mirin (a little under 1/4 cup)
- 100 ml shoyu (soy sauce) (1/2 cup minus 1 tablespoon)
- 15 ml rice vinegar (1 tbsp)
- 2 g white sugar (1/2 tsp)
- 1 piece kombu about 5x15 cm (2x6 inches)
- 1 small handful katsuobushi (bonito flakes) (about 5 g, or 1/2 cup, loosely packed)
- Combine the sake and mirin in a small pot and bring to a boil on the stovetop. Boil for 1 minute then remove from heat.
- Add the kombu, katsuobushi, soy sauce, sugar, lemon juice, and all of the lemon rind/seeds to the mixture. Set aside for as long as possible -- at least 30 minutes, and up to overnight if possible.
- Strain out the solids and refrigerate the ponzu. It will keep for up to one month.
What an informative post! Lately I’ve been trying to learn more about Japanese cuisine, as I’m heading there soon. Thanks for all the explanation and replacement options.
You’re welcome Elaine, and I’m glad I could help. It’s a phenomenal, varied, and unique cuisine. While we see a lot of it in North America, we’re really only seeing a fraction of the culinary spectrum (and often a highly Westernized version). I’m sure you’ll have an amazing trip!
You make this Ponzu recipe, something I never would have thought of making myself, look super simple to make! I am pinning, printing and trying this out!!
AND I love LOVE everything about your whole site!!
Thank you Cassandrea! I know that some of the Japanese pantry staples can seem intimidating at times, but it’s mostly a matter of familiarity. They’re really quite simple to use, and this sauce truly is simple to put together, and unbeatable in the flavour department! Thanks for the very kind words! I hope you’ll let me know how the recipe turns out.
Happy New Year Sean! I love how informative your posts are as always!
Thanks so much Karen! Happy New Year to you too.
An awesome and informative post, as always – I learn something with every one of your posts. I have never thought about making my own Ponzu sauce before – and now I will, thanks to your recipe, Sean! I love the idea of making my own condiments so that they are a safe option for the gluten free, grain free folks I cook for. Thanks, Sean!
Thank you Denise! One of the best things about making your own condiments (etc.) from scratch, other than the fantastic flavour, is knowing exactly what’s gone into them. That’s no small thing! I’m really glad you enjoyed it.
Awesome recipe Sean! I love the description of all the ingredients, you do a great job explaining all the components. I have only ever made ponzu sauce once..I don’t usually have all the ingredients at home. We do have a pretty well stocked Asian grocer here in Charlottetown..I’m sure I can find everything I’ll need.
So excited to try this! We absolutely love Japanese food but have never prepared Ponzu sauce. Very excited to discover your site! Thanks!
I’ve never tried ponzu sauce – I think I need to! In fact I think I need to explore the world of Japanese food a lot more in general!
I have tried regular ponzu and other Japanese flavors, but really can’t tolerate the briny ick of bonito or anything resembling seaweed. Is there a good alternative dipping sauce for dumplings other than plain soy? (Blame my upbringing, the only kinds seafood I like are cod, fully-cooked tuna, and halibut.)
Hi Jen! A looooot of traditionally made Japanese sauces start with dashi made with katsuobushi, kombu, or both. You’ll also find plenty of simplified and commercial versions that either omit these (which you might enjoy
more) or replace them with an umami-building shortcut like MSG. There is a dashi variation that’s made by soaking dried shiitake mushrooms in warm water. This usually uses kombu too, but you could omit it. I would try mixing a 1:1 ratio of shiitake mushroom liquid with soy sauce. For an adapted ponzu recipe, omit the kombu and katsuobushi from this and use 2-3 dried shiitake mushrooms in their place! I hope that helps!