You’ve probably sampled Japanese plum wine, umeshu, once or twice in an Asian restaurant. But have you ever wondered what delicious fruit provides the plum wine with its enticingly sweet flavor? A plum of course, but not just any ordinary plum. It is called an ume, and the Japanese plum is held in reverence in Japan — the ume tree is the first tree to bloom in Japan each year, and the beautiful blossoms are celebrated in songs, art and poetry.
Of course, the ume fruit as well is an important part of Japanese cuisine. The slightly sour fruit has a number of versatile uses including umeshu, ume vinegar or flavorful desserts. People in Japan also consider eating ume regularly increase energy and improve health. But perhaps the most popular use for the ume fruit is to make umeboshi. It’s a dried, pickled ume fruits that intensely sour-salty-sweet.
How to Make Umeboshi?
The ume fruits are picked and soaked in a brine along with red shiso leaves. You can purchase umeboshi at most Asian supermarkets, or you can make your own — the procedure is rather simple. What you need are ume plums, which are ripest in early spring. You will also need red shiso leaves, coarse sea salt and the brine, which is actually a distilled alcohol beverage known as shochu.
You will also need some equipment like jars for pickling. The process can take some time, and while it may be fun to make your own, it is of course much easier to simply purchase it already prepared. It is a tradition in many Japanese households to still make their own umeboshi.
Health Benefits of Umeboshi
Some of the major health benefits of umeboshi include helping to stimulate and improve digestion, eliminating toxins from the body, and increasing energy. Just as Americans consider an apple a day a healthy ritual, umeboshi is as much the same tonic in Japan.
The umeboshi plums have an alkalizing effect on the body, as both the shiso leaves, the citric acid and the fermentation process form a triple-punch of health benefits that help to combat and eliminate nausea, diarrhea, bacterial infections and many other ailments.
For those of you who enjoy imbibing in alcohol on occasion, you can also impress your friends by handing them some umeboshi the following morning to serve as a hangover cure!
Culinary Uses for Umeboshi
Traditionally eaten with a bowl of plain white rice, you can also use umeboshi in marinades and sauces. As the flavor is very strong, you typically only need to use a small amount to add a large amount of umami to any dish. You can add flavors to vegetable dishes or add umeboshi to a poaching liquid to marinate chicken.
When shopping for umeboshi, be sure to choose products that only contain the ingredients mentioned above. Many brands have added artificial dyes and other chemical ingredients or preservatives that reduce the healthy qualities of the umeboshi.
The salty-sour flavor may be intense at first. However, once you acclimate, you’ll find a new level of flavor in many of your favorite dishes.