What’s So Good About… Umeboshi (Pickled Plums)?

Umeboshi (Japanese: 梅干; literally “dried ume”)
Pronounced “ooh-meh-boshi”

I’ve never been a big fan of this sour plum, used in Japanese cooking. But after attending a talk by a local nutritionist, I decided to give it another go. And now, I’m hooked! I eat one a day for breakfast or as part of a meal (eg. salad) and I have to agree that it really does help digestion.

Umeboshi is commonly described as pickled sour “plum” although it is actually a type of apricot. It is similar to what the Chinese call sng buay. It is salty and sour. This pickled plum – pickled in salt and usually with a medicinal herb called shiso.

The ume plant has been part of Japanese culture for centuries. Umeboshi was first brought to Japan around 1500 years ago as a medicine made from the ume fruit. The effectiveness of Umeboshi has been documented in Chinese medicine books as far back as 3000 years ago. Its use first became popular among priests and samurai warriors after the 12th century. During the war period of the 15th and 16th centuries, samurai warriors held Umeboshi in high esteem, carrying it to revive themselves, even from the brink of death. At this point Umeboshi was still considered as a medicine only. It was not until the 17th century that individual families began to make Umeboshi in their home. Umeboshi finally started to appear on the dining table in the 19th century. At the time, it was customary to pour green tea over Umeboshi and “kombu” seaweed for use as a revitalizing tonic.

In Chinese medicine, umeboshi is the ‘yang’. Ume contains organic acids such as rich citric acid, apple acid, amber acid and crude acid. The concept “Ume is good for your body” is related to how these organic acids function.

It is said that umeboshi helps with:
> Anything coming ‘out’ of the body eg. runny nose, diarrhoea, vomiting, perspiration, menstruation etc.
> Digestive problems – indigestion, lack of appetite, vomiting, diarrhoea, flatulence, etc
> Infections – including bacterial and viral infections.

Drinking a cup of ‘umeshu’ before a meal is claimed to increase the appetite. The standard Japanese folk remedy for colds and flus is okayu (rice congee) with umeboshi. Eating umeboshi in Japan is the equivalent of eating “an apple a day”.

Umeboshi are usually served as side dishes for rice or eaten on rice balls (often without removing the pit) for breakfast and lunch. It may also be served as a complement of a green tea or a drink with shochu and hot water. Umeboshi can also be eaten as part of a bento (a single umeboshi is often placed in the centre of the rice to recreate the flag of Japan, the Hinomaru Bento). It is occasionally served boiled or seasoned for dinner. Umeboshi comes whole or as a paste.

> Ume Soup with Vegetables – http://muso-intl.com/recipe/05.html
> How to Make Soy Sauce with the Scent of Ume – http://www.pickled-ume.com/english/soy_sauce
> Orange Ume Dressing – http://www.mitoku.com/recipes/index/orangeumedoressing.html
> Umeboshi Tea – http://www.mitoku.com/recipes/index/umeboshitea.html

OR try making your own – http://www.justhungry.com/homemade-umeboshi-japanese-pickled-plums

How do you use umeboshi? ‘Comment’ and share!

8 Comments Add yours

  1. Anonymous says:

    Hi Kirsty! My grandma swears by her daily umeboshi. She says without it she can’t function and it’s her version of a caffeine hit (I think this is due partly to it’s sourness) but I’m sure it also has contributed to her long life (she is 90!). I absolutely love them too. With leftover rice I make rice balls and pop an umeboshi in the middle (without the seed of course!). Delicious. It is also used in one of my grandma’s traditional dishes of simmered whole sardines with mirin, soy and umeboshi. However, I usually just enjoy it as an accompaniment to lovely hot fresh Japanese rice. I hope your love for the sour plum continues x

    1. vegematarian says:

      Sounds like your grandma is living proof of the “umeboshi a day” regime! Thanks for sharing your story and recipe 🙂

  2. superbadkitty says:

    Thanks for the info, interesting to hear the Chinese name, especially. I’ve used umeboshi to make Tsumire-jiru from a recipe. It was basically mashed and added to the fishball mixture. Happy days.

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