Umeboshi vinegar (also known as plum vinegar as well as Ume Su) is the salty, sour, and sweet by-product of the umeboshi-making process. Umeboshis are the red, pucker-up delicious fruits commonly used in Japanese dishes. These fruits, called “ume” in Japanese, are actually more closely-related to apricots than plums. Traditionally, the umeboshi are dried and then preserved in a salty brine, with purple perilla leaves that add a bright red color. These days, however, some brands use red dyes in place the leaves as well as less salt, which can prompt the use of artificial preservatives. The Eden brand, which is the most widely available in the US, uses the traditional method: The ume fruits are pressed and the liquid that leaks out of them is bottled up for use as a condiment.
Umeboshi vinegar is used widely in Japanese cooking as a seasoning. It’s often tossed with steamed vegetables and sprinkled over sautéed greens and rice. In the US, it first became popular outside of Japanese communities in the 1970s, when people became exploring macrobiotic and Japanese cooking. Umeboshi vinegar is quite salty, but it boasts a sour, fruity flavor. It is very unique, and can be creatively applied to vegan dishes where a sea-like or fish flavor is desired. It can be used in place of a fish sauce, although its flavor might seem fruitier and brighter to your personal palate.
Besides their dramatic flavor, Japanese pickled plums have remarkable medicinal qualities. Their powerful acidity has a paradoxical alkalinizing effect on the body; neutralizing fatigue, stimulating digestion, and promoting the elimination of toxins. The Far Eastern equivalent to aspirin and apple, they also act as a potent hangover remedy. An umeboshi plum a day is regarded as one of the best preventative medicines available.
The oldest Japanese record of pickled plums being used as a medicine is in a medical text written around one thousand years ago. Umeboshi were used to prevent fatigue, purify water, rid the body of toxins, and cure specific diseases such as dysentery, typhoid, and food poisoning. In 1968, a component in Umeboshi was found to have germidical effects on the tuberculosis bacteria. Here are a few ways you can use umeboshi plums for your benefit:
- Eat umeboshi plums with breakfast every day to gently break your fast and provide your body with energy.
- Eat an umeboshi before every meal as an appetizer, especially if pregnant. The digestion stimulative and acid-reducing properties of the plums can help ease morning sickness and fatigue that come with pregnancy.
- Make a tea to combat digestive complaints or fatigue by soaking an umeboshi plum in hot water for five minutes, then feel free to eat the plum itself afterwards.
- Mash a couple plums into a smooth paste and add to sauces, soups, and other dishes as a seasoning.
- Finely dice and add them to sushi or rice balls. Adding umeboshi to conventional foods helps you digest them and can prevent constipation.
- Use ume plum vinegar in sauces and salad dressings or as a flavoring for many types of dishes.
As a general tip, be careful to adjsut any salt in your dish, as more often than not, the addition of umeboshi vinegar will be enough for it.
Reciple: Umeshu (Japanese Plum Liqueur)
- Japanese green ume plums
- Rock sugar
- Optional: purple shiso leaves
A kitchen scale
Large, wide mouth, clean, non-metallic jar with a tight lid. Should be large enough that the plums, sugar, and sochu should only fill around 3/4 of the jar.
- Wash the plums and remove the stems. The stems are small and deep, so use a toothpick or your pinky fingernail to dig them out.
- Measure out an amount of plums that fills half of the jar you’re planning to use. Weigh and set aside.
- Weigh out rock sugar in an amount that is 1/2 the weight of the plums. As an example, if you have two pounds of plums, measure out one pount of the sugar.
- Place a layer of plums in the jar then a layer of rock and sugar, then another layer of plums, and one final layer of sugar. Continue until all plums and sugar are used up. Add layers of red shiso leaves if you so desire.
- Pour the soju/sochu in the jars until it is about an inch over the top of the plums.
- Put the lid on the jar securely and store the plums in a cool, dark place. Shake occasionally to help the sugar mix with the alcohol. After 5 to 6 months, the umeshu is ready to drink. However, this liquer mellows with age, so the flavor may differ after a year or two. Try making a few different batches, and drink one after six months, the next after a year, and the third after 2 years.
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Image credit: miheco/Flickr
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