A glass of hot water with lemon, a warm cup of tea with honey, a bowl of soothing chicken noodle soup—Americans have a slew of natural remedies to fight common winter ailments. But while these remedies are certainly comforting when we feel under the weather, none of them compare to yuja-cha.
Bright, sweet, citrusy, and soothing, piping hot yuja-cha has been a favorite cold weather beverage amongst Koreans for generations. Also called honey citron tea or yuja tea, yuja-cha in its simplest form is made with just sugar, water, and yuja.
What is Yuja?
Roughly the size of an orange with bumpy skin, yuja is an extremely fragrant citrus fruit grown in western Asia that tastes like a cross between an orange and a bitter grapefruit. According to Lee Sang Gap, president of South Korea-based honey and tea company Kkoh Shaem Food, yuja originated in the Yangtze River region of China.
“Jang Bogo from [the ancient Korean kingdom of] Silla is the one who introduced yuja to Korea,” he said. “When Jang Bogo went to the Tang Dynasty [in China], he got a yuja as a gift from a merchant. On the way back to Korea, Jang Bogo’s boat met a storm, and the yuja was smashed. The ship reached the South Sea area and the smashed yuja seeds were sown into the ground.”
Historically, yuja was an incredibly expensive fruit. The yuja tree used to be called “The College Tree,” since selling the yuja fruit would supposedly bring in enough money to pay for your child’s education.
Besides its economic value, yuja has also long been praised for its many health benefits. It contains a high amount of vitamin C and roughly three times the amount of antioxidants as your average lemon.
How to Make Yuja-Cha
Although there are many ways to enjoy yuja, the most popular is yuja-cha, a refreshing tea. Yuja-cha is most commonly enjoyed during the winter months, when colds run rampant and yuja is in season.
To make yuja-cha, all parts of the fruit are used, except the seeds. The yuja is sliced thinly, rind and all, and mixed with equal parts sugar. Sugar is a key ingredient in making yuja-cha, as it acts as a natural preservative. This method of preservation is called cheong, and it allows the yuja mixture to be safely stored for months before needing to be made into tea.
Once the yuja has been mixed with sugar, additional ingredients like honey and ginger may be added to impart both flavor and nutrients to the yuja-cha. Then, all that’s left to do is to add hot water.
Yuja-cha can be enjoyed warm or cold, and the yuja rinds and flesh can be enjoyed as well as the liquid tea itself.
With its soothing citrus flavor and nutritional boost, it’s clear why so many Koreans turn to yuja-cha to alleviate winter ailments such as coughs, colds, and indigestion. The vitamin C and antioxidants in the yuja combined with the anti-inflammatory properties of the honey make it a highly effective natural cold remedy. Add fresh ginger to the mix, and you get an even more potent drink to ward off colds and coughs.
If yuja isn’t available in your region, you can make a similar beverage using fresh lemons. For a quicker fix, opt for a jar of premade yuja marmalade, or yuja-cheong, from your local Korean supermarket.
Kkoh Shaem Food sells a version of yuja-cha, conveniently available at Costco, that’s made with honey and ginger for a kick of extra warmth and cold-fighting power. When mixed with hot water, the thick, marmalade-like base dissolves into a sweet, warming tea that makes for the perfect cold weather pick-me-up.