Enjoy the Refreshing Aroma of Banpeiyu, One of the World's Largest Citrus Fruits

Banpeiyu, a large citrus fruit with a thick, pale yellow peel originating in Southeast Asia, was first cultivated in Japan in Yatsushiro, Kumamoto, and it was harvested in earnest starting in the 1930s. This is still a major farming area for the fruit, and around 90% of the banpeiyu grown in Japan comes from here. It is said to be one of the largest citrus fruits in the world, and can be as large as 25cm in diameter and 2kg in weight! Not only are they delicious, but you can also leave them out after harvesting to enjoy their refreshing aroma. To learn more about this fruit, we visited Junichi Nishida, a local citrus farmer who grows banpeiyu without pesticides or fertilizers.

Kumamoto

Food & Drink

Banpeiyu Was First Grown in Yatsushiro, Kumamoto

Banpeiyu are a type of pomelo, and it is one of the largest citrus fruits in the world. Translating the characters in its Japanese name literally reads as "late white citrus", which is said to come from the whiteness of its flesh, and the fact that it is a late-growing crop.

In 1920, a Kumamoto-based botanist named Yaichi Shimada brought samples of the banpeiyu plant from Vietnam and attempted to cultivate them. While the crop didn't catch on at the time, in 1930, stock from Taiwan was imported on a larger scale, and the plant began to be cultivated in Kumamoto. Today, banpeiyu are widely grown in Yatsushiro as a speciality of the area, and they are also grown in the Tamana District of Kumamoto.

This fruit has a thick, pale yellow rind, and the flesh inside is surrounded by a white, cotton-like pith. It stores well, so it can be used indoors as a decoration for around a month after harvest to fill the room with a unique, fresh fragrance. If you take a bite of the large sections, you'll taste a mild acidity and a fresh aftertaste. In Yatsushiro, pickles called banpeiyu-zuke, made by cutting the rind and cotton-like pith into sticks and preserving them in sugar, are a local speciality.

Banpeiyu Grown Naturally on 40-Year-Old Trees with No Fertilizers or Pesticides

Junichi Nishida, representative of Nishida Orchards in Kumamoto's Tamana District, is a rare type of farmer who grows citrus fruits without using pesticides. Nishida describes his unique agricultural method as "a kind of fusion of natural cultivation and Steiner's biodynamic agriculture method which involves mowing, pruning, and harvesting in accordance with the phases of the moon." He uses this method to grow not just banpeiyu, but also around 30 types of citrus fruits, including satsuma and shiranuhi mandarins, hassaku oranges, hyuganatsu, and lemons. 

"Minerals are the key to whether or not citrus fruit turns out tasting good," said Nishida as he guided us along the steep mountain slopes. "The soil here is red clay mixed with limestone, so it's rich in minerals like potassium and calcium. It's a great environment for growing delicious citrus fruits."  

Nishida's grandfather cleared the land here, and the 40-year-old banpeiyu trees date back to his father's generation. In order to protect the fruit from scratches inflicted by branches before harvest, the trees were individually planted on slopes that are best for growth and less likely to be damaged in typhoons or other weather conditions.

"Each tree produces around 30 banpeiyu. They are very large fruit, so the branches tend to bend down quite a lot. If you let the fruit ripen, the sweetness takes on a delicious umami flavor, so after harvest, we store the fruit in a storehouse where the temperature is kept at around 5°C."

This natural agricultural method that avoids the use of pesticides, fertilizer, or even greenhouses, also impacts the appearance of the fruits. It's not unusual to see black spots or scratches on the skin which are caused by natural factors like wind and rain. The banpeiyu you might see in shops tend to have smooth rinds, but Nishida clearly explained his reasoning: "Imperfections are proof that these are naturally grown without pesticides."

Branches bend considerably with the weight of the fruit as it grows.

200 meters above sea level, the orchards spread out over slopes with a lovely view.

Respect the Tree's Natural Instincts and It Will Grow Delicious Fruit

Nishida carefully considers the tree's natural fruit-bearing cycles, and avoids thinning out fruit to regulate the number of harvests. "Thinning out fruits disrupts the tree's natural physiology. If you leave it alone, the tree will naturally produce fruit every second year," said Nishida. "In the years where the tree bears a lot of fruit, the tree's natural instincts results in competition among the individual pieces to grow, which produces delicious fruit. Although you can only enjoy them once every two years, you have to respect the innate instincts of the trees." Nishida wants his fruit to go to those who can understand these sentiments.

After graduating university, Nishida worked for a major electronics company. The inconsistencies he felt while working in the company's environmental department lead him to think about environmental problems. "I started wanting to do something more natural and organic," he said.

After taking over the family orchard, he started growing multiple varieties of fruits, increasing the varieties grown by re-evaluating the mountain's terrain and soil. He does not use any petroleum-based products like vinyl or fuel required for greenhouses.

Nishida, who talks about how he values the "story" that leads up to the fruit being eaten, is currently developing his own series of fruit he is calling Tsuki-Yomi or "Moon Reading", named after his agricultural methods. Nishida said he hopes to continue considering the varieties of trees and grasses on his land so that he can keep growing delicious citrus fruits. He wants to maintain the principle of growing the "right crop in the right place" through his unique blend of the principles drawn from natural agricultural methods.

As Nishida spoke about his farm, he gave us a banpeiyu. It was dense and heavy, and made us consider the nature at work around us. 

From the left: hyuganatsu, blood oranges, shekwasha, and satsuma mandarin. You can get a sense of how large the banpeiyu are.

A banpeiyu approximately 1.5kg in weight.

Making a flat cut at the top of the fruit makes it easier to peel.

Banpeiyu are characterized by their fresh and juicy flesh.

Nishida Orchard

Nishida Orchards grows fruits in accordance with natural cycles, and typically sells its fruit directly to the buyer. He also works in processing the fruit, and sells juices made from whole fruit.

From the left: Blood Orange (2,300 yen per liter, plus tax), Satsuma Mandarin (2,000 yen per liter, plus tax)

 

Translated and republished with permission from:Visit Kyushu

 

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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.

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