Ponzu Sauce: Japanese Punch Vinegar

Ponzu sauce is sometimes referred to more simply as ponzu. It is thought to have originated during the period when the Dutch East India Company was trading in Japan, which would have been in the 1600s. The Dutch had exclusive rights to do business in Japan from the 17th century to the middle of the 19th. Some historians believe that Worcestershire sauce is an attempt to replicate ponzu sauce.

Ponzu sauce is used as a condiment at the table and as a marinade. Usually, it is made from scratch since the ingredients are not shelf-stable but there are commercial versions available.

The name ponzu is actually a compound word consisting of two Dutch words. Pon translates to punch and su means vinegar, so the sauce’s name is literally punch vinegar.

Ponzu sauce flavor profile

Ponzu consists of mirin or sake, rice wine vinegar, and bonito flakes along with kombu and citrus juice. The citrus juice may come from a variety of different fruits including lemons, but the most traditional one is yuzu. Some western cooks have tried to combine grapefruit and lemon to copy the yuzu flavor.

Ponzu sauce

The bonito flakes and kombu provide saltiness and umami in much the same way that anchovies do in Worcestershire sauce. The wine, vinegar, and citrus juice provide sweet and tart notes with a hint of bitterness. The ingredients cover a variety of taste extremes leading to a sauce with a complex flavor profile.

The health benefits of ponzu sauce

Commercial ponzu sauce is not a good source of any nutrients except for sodium, which your body needs in very small amounts. That said, it does have some important benefits since it can help you to treat or prevent conditions like:

  • Obesity: Ponzu sauce contains no fat and has only a small amount of sugar per serving, which means that it is an effective way to add flavor to your food without also adding in more calories.
  • High cholesterol: Ponzu sauce won’t increase your cholesterol since it contains none of the saturated fat that results in high cholesterol. It is a useful part of a low-cholesterol diet.
  • Diabetes: You will get a small amount of sugar from a serving of ponzu sauce but it will not be enough to significantly increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Health concerns

Ponzu sauce contains a significant amount of sodium. A 1 oz serving will give you about 1/4 of your daily recommended amount. Excessive salt in your diet can raise your blood pressure and create more work for your heart, leading to an increased risk of a heart attack. Too much salt may also damage your kidneys and your bones.

Common uses

It is often used alongside shoyu (soy sauce) to make a dipping sauce called ponzu shoyu that is often served with shabu-shabu or sashimi. Some people refer to the blend of shoyu and ponzu sauce as ponzu sauce, which may lead to confusion.

Ponzu sauce works in Western applications as well — you can use it in the same way that you would use Worcestershire sauce. Use it as a steak sauce or in your barbecue sauce. It is great in salad dressings and ceviche.