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This extremely versatile Japanese citrus condiment is vibrant in flavor and delicious on so many dishes. This ponzu sauce uses lemon juice, lime juice, and grapefruit zest to achieve a bright citrus flavor — it might just be your new favorite dipping sauce for dumplings or sushi!
Also, try whipping up this Japanese salad dressing with carrot and ginger!
Ponzu makes for a perfect dipping sauce for gyoza or tempura, you can try it as a marinade for ponzu ribs or other cuts of meat, you can pour it over a stir fry or noodle dish, or drizzle it over salad or other veggies. Talk about versatility!
It is one of those “good things come to those who wait” type of recipes, in that you need to steep it at least overnight and up to 2-3 days. The good news is, however, that it'll last in your fridge for a month and in the freezer for up to a year! It's absolutely worth it because once you taste it, you'll reach for it all the time!
What is ponzu sauce?
Steeped in Japanese culture, ponzu refers to a condiment made from combining vinegar and citrus. The vinegar helps preserve the citrus, creating a sour-sweet-tangy taste. Eventually, soy sauce was added to the traditional recipe for some salinity and is now widely available this way.
Because of all the citrus and vinegar included in the sauce, it's great for rich foods, fried foods, and marinades where it helps to tenderize the meat.
Ponzu sauce ingredients
Depending on your familiarity with Japanese cuisine, there may be some ingredients on this list that are less frequently used and found in North American cooking and grocery stores. Let's take a look at what you'll need to make ponzu sauce:
- Light soy sauce: This adds a rich, salty flavor to the sauce.
- Mirin: This is a type of rice wine that you can find in many grocery stores and online. If you're familiar with sake, mirin is sort of like that (with less alcohol and more sugar). If you need to make a substitute, use dry sherry or sweet marsala wine.
- Fresh lime juice: The first of the citrus components, you'll need ¼ cup of fresh lime juice. This is about 2 whole limes.
- Fresh lemon juice: Pick up one lemon and squeeze the juice from it to get the ¼ cup needed.
- Rice vinegar: Although you'll only need 2 tablespoons, the rice vinegar will help preserve the sauce, and contribute to the overall smell and taste of it.
- Grapefruit zest: Pull out your microplane and zest about 2 teaspoons worth of grapefruit zest. Grapefruit is added to try and mimic the flavor of yuzu fruit. Yuzu, although a traditional Japanese fruit, is not included in this ponzu recipe since it's not highly accessible in North America and not exactly budget-friendly.
- Dried bonito flakes: Also known as katsuobushi, these are super thin fish shavings that provide a big umami flavor. You'll need ¼ cup of katsuobushi for this recipe.
- Dried kelp: Also known as kombu, and can be used like a spice or herb for flavoring. Dried kelp is rich in minerals and grows in the sea so tastes both salty and veggie-like. You can find this in many grocery stores, and will need 1 piece. Dried seaweed or nori will also work here.
How to make ponzu sauce
All you need to make ponzu sauce is a jar with a lid and a strainer. Here's what you'll do to bring it together:
- Add the ingredients: To your jar, add the soy sauce, mirin, lime juice, lemon juice, rice vinegar, and grapefruit zest. Then add the bonito flakes and kelp.
- Shake well: Pop the lid on and give it a good shake
- Steep: Let the ponzu sauce sit in the fridge overnight, or even better, for 2-3 days to really let the flavors mingle.
- Strain: Use a fine mesh sieve to strain the sauce into a clean vessel and store it in the fridge or use it on the dish you had in mind.
Make yuzu ponzu sauce
Yuzu is a fruit commonly found in Japan. It's somewhere between a lemon and an orange and the flavor is excellent for ponzu sauce.
That said, it isn't a widely available fruit in North America. And since it's on the smaller side with plenty of seeds, you'll need a bunch of yuzu to make a batch of ponzu. You can use the bottled yuzu juice, however, it's also hard to come by.
If you can find yuzu in a local Asian supermarket, it's worth making ponzu sauce with this fruit or the juice from it. It's quite a special taste.
You will need approximately 24 yuzu fruit to make this ponzu sauce recipe, and it will replace the juice of the lemons and limes.
Variations to try
You can play around with the flavors in the ponzu sauce to get it to your liking. Here are some variations to try:
- The simplest ponzu sauce ever made: You can, in its simplest form, create a ponzu-like sauce using 50/50 citrus juice and soy sauce. Of course, it won't have the same complexities of flavor, but it will still be good and cuts down on all the ingredients needed.
- Change up the citrus: You can make ponzu sauce using lemon juice, lime juice, orange juice, grapefruit juice, yuzu juice, or a combination of the fruit juices.
- Spice it up: You can add some heat if you like. Sriracha or garlic chili paste can be added to the recipe to bring up the spice.
What to serve with ponzu sauce
The possibilities are endless (part of the reason why ponzu sauce is so widely used in Japan). Here is some inspiration of what to serve with ponzu sauce:
- Marinade or coating: Ponzu sauce makes for a great marinade because of the bold flavor, plus it helps tenderize meat. Try using it as a marinade for ribs, or a coating for salmon or even tofu. You can toss ponzu sauce over your stir fry or noodle dish, too!
- Dipping sauce: Use ponzu sauce to dip your dumplings, tempura, sushi, or any fried food into. That said, avoid pouring it over the top of anything that might become soggy from the added liquid of the ponzu sauce.
- Vinaigrette: You can use ponzu sauce as a salad dressing or drizzle over cooked veggies.
Can I make ponzu sauce vegetarian?
To make this a vegetarian or vegan-friendly ponzu sauce, you'll need to remove the bonito (fish) flakes. You can simply omit the dried bonito flakes from this recipe, or replace them with more dried kelp or 3-4 dried shiitake mushrooms to replicate the umami flavor from the fish flakes.
Is ponzu sauce gluten-free?
To make a gluten-free ponzu sauce you can substitute the soy sauce for tamari.
Can I make ponzu sauce without mirin (alcohol)?
You can cook the alcohol off the mirin by boiling it so that there is no alcohol content in this recipe. Or, you can omit the mirin and add more rice vinegar. If you choose to go this direction, you will need to add ½ teaspoon of sugar for every tablespoon of rice vinegar (since mirin has a high sugar content that needs to be replaced).
Is ponzu sauce similar to teriyaki or hoisin sauce?
Kind of. The difference is in the citrus content, so ponzu is much more acidic and punchy. It also differs in texture. Teriyaki and hoisin have a thicker consistency than ponzu sauce.
How long will ponzu sauce last?
It will keep for one month in the fridge in a sealed container, or you can freeze it and use it within the year. It's a good idea to freeze it in a silicone ice cube tray so that you can thaw and use portions of it as needed.
- In a 2-cup mason jar, add the soy sauce, mirin, lime juice, lemon juice, rice vinegar, and grapefruit zest.½ cup light soy sauce, ½ cup mirin, ¼ cup fresh lime juice, ¼ cup fresh lemon juice, 2 tablespoons rice vinegar, 1 teaspoon grapefruit zest
- Add the bonito flakes and kelp to the jar, close the lid, and shake the jar to mix well. Put the jar into your fridge to steep overnight (minimum) or preferably for 2-3 days.¼ cup dried bonito flakes, 1 piece dried kelp
- Strain the ponzu sauce through a fine-mesh sieve into a clean jar or bowl. You can use it right away or store it in your fridge for up to a month.
We have thoroughly tested this recipe for accuracy. However, individual results may vary. See our full recipe disclosure here.