If you’ve ever tasted sweet Japanese plum wine (umeshu), you might be surprised to learn that it comes from the same fruit as the wrinkled, intensely-flavored fermented tidbit called umeboshi. What is it, and how should you eat it?
What is umeboshi?
The Japanese plum, ume, is important to Japanese culture and cuisine and are the main ingredient in umeboshi, which in English can translate to “salted Japanese plums.” Traditional umeboshi are salted, fermented, and dried, and may also take on a red color from soaking with purple perilla leaves.
The ume tree reportedly spread from China to Japan in 700 A.D., and its fruits became part of traditional medicine. As the first tree to bloom after the winter, its beautiful blossoms mark the beginning of spring and are the subject of much celebration, music, and art. Fresh ume fruits are used in many ways, including in plum wine and umeboshi.
What do umeboshi taste like?
Umeboshi enhances the ume plum’s natural sourness, and has a very sour, umami-salty flavor. They undergo a drying process that retains some of their natural juiciness and meaty texture, and they often contain a small plum pit. Some umeboshi are made with honey and incorporate a sweetness along with their sour saltiness.
In Japan, eating ume on the regular is thought to increase energy and improve health, and in pickled form their supposed health benefits in large part come from the fermentation process and the combination of perilla with citric acid, which are said to have an alkalizing effect on the body. Umeboshi are said to improve digestion, counter nausea and diarrhea, fight bacterial infections, and more–they’re even said to be a hangover cure.
Umeboshi are a regular part of the Japanese diet, commonly eaten with plain white rice for breakfast or lunch, or sometimes as one component in a meal such as a bento box. A traditional Japanese folk remedy for colds and flus is rice porridge (okayu) with umeboshi. A few of these little pickled plums would make a flavorful addition to a White Fish Rice Bowl, Togarashi Eggs, or a bowl of Togarashi Salmon with Broccoli, Brown Rice, and Cucumbers.
Feature Image: Flickr user ayumew (CC BY-SA 2.0)