Pickled Plums

What’s this?

Umeboshi Plum.

They are called umeboshi in Japanese (OO-meh means ‘plum’ and BOH-shee means ‘dried’) and are often translated as ‘pickled plums,’ but they actually come from a species of apricot tree.  To pickle them, the Japanese cure them in sea salt for a few weeks, which releases their juice. Then they are packed with salted red shiso leaves (perilla plant) and marinated for another month to impart a red color. Finally they are removed from the brine. They are left on a bamboo mat in the sun during the day with the brine in a pot so that the plums cure and the liquid concentrates. At night the plums are returned to the brine. This sun drying process is repeated for two more days until the umeboshi are ready to be packed in storage containers.

Pickled plums taste very tart and salty. They were first used in Japan a thousand years ago as a medicine. The samurai ate umeboshi to combat fatigue, and throughout history, umeboshi have been used as a cure for vomiting, intestinal worms, fevers, coughs and colds, and even morning sickness.  The alkalinity of umeboshi restores balance in the body when it is in an over-acidic state. Their catechin acid stimulates the secretion of saliva and gastric juices, activating the digestive system. The citric acid increases metabolism and assists the absorption of calcium in the intestine. The pyric acid enhances liver function. In addition, umeboshi act as a sterilizer and antibacterial agent. They contain organic acids that can kill bacteria, so an umeboshi is usually included in Japanese lunchboxes as a garnish on rice to prevent food poisoning.

Umeboshi alone can be overwhelmingly tart so it may be better prepared in a recipe:

Umeboshi Dressing

1 umeboshi, pitted and finely chopped
2 tbsp. rice vinegar
2 tsp. sugar
2 tbsp. virgin olive oil
1 tsp. soy sauce

Mash the umeboshi with a fork to make a smooth purée. Stir in rice vinegar, sugar, olive oil, and soy sauce. Serve the dressing over salad greens.

Chicken and Okra Salad with Umeboshi Purée

10 okra, blanched and sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
1 cup boiled and shredded chicken breast (about 1/2 a small breast)
2 umeboshi, pitted and finely chopped
2 tsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. mirin (Japanese sweet rice wine)
2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 tsp. honey

Mash together the umeboshi, soy sauce, and mirin until it becomes a smooth purée. Add the vinegar, honey, okra, and chicken. Stir well. Eat as a salad accompaniment to rice.

Umeboshi with Rice

3 cups hot cooked rice
3 umeboshi, pitted and finely chopped
2 tbsp. toasted sesame seeds
2 tsp. vegetable oil (optional)

Toss the hot rice with the other ingredients. The oil makes the rice smoother and easier to mix. Serve hot with a cup of green tea.



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