Energetics of Umeboshi: Try Something New

umeboshi

Umeboshi Facts

Umeboshi (梅干) are pickled ume fruits common in Japan. The word “umeboshi” is often translated into English as “Japanese salt plums,” “salt plums” or “pickled plums.” Ume is a species of fruit-bearing tree in the genus Prunus, which is often called a plum but is actually more closely related to the apricot.  Pickled ume which are not dried are called umezuke (梅漬け). Umeboshi are usually round, and vary from smooth to very wrinkled. Usually they taste salty, and are extremely sour due to high citric acid content, but sweeter versions exist, as well.

Umeboshi were notorious for their ability to eat their way through the plain drawn aluminum lunch boxes commonly used in the 1960s. The combination of organic acids and salt in the umeboshi were the cause of this phenomenon.

Umeboshi were esteemed by the samurai to combat battle fatigue.

How Is Umeboshi Made?

6a0120a71b1d39970b0192ab2da552970d-800wiUmeboshi are traditionally made by harvesting ume fruit when they ripen around June and packing them in barrels with salt. A weight is placed on top and the fruit gradually exude juices, which accumulate at the bottom of the barrel. The left over salty and sour liquid is called umezu (梅酢), or ume vinegar, although it is not a true vinegar. It is great for making pickled vegetables.  The ume is then taken out of the barrels and laid out flat on reed/grass mats to dry in the hot sun for about 3 days.

How To Eat Umeboshi

Umeboshi Makizushi

Umeboshi Makizushi

Umeboshi are usually eaten in small quantities with rice, for added flavor. It is also a common ingredient in onigiri, rice balls wrapped in nori, and they may also be used in makizushi. Makizushi made with umeboshi may be made with either pitted umeboshi or umeboshi paste (which is cheaper.  Another usage of umeboshi is in “Ume ochazuke,” a dish of rice with poured in green tea topped with umeboshi.

Umeboshi is used as a cooking accent to enhance flavor and presentation. They may also be served as a complement of a green tea or a drink with shochu and hot water.

Energetics – Health Benefits of Eating Umeboshi

umeboshiThe health benefits of Umeboshi are as follows: it treats indigestion, diarrhea and dysentery, removes worms, and acts on the liver. Umeboshi is hailed as the “Japanese Alka-Seltzer” because of its use in treating digestive upset.

The Japanese folk remedy for colds and the flu is okayu (rice congee) with umeboshi.

Caution: Habitual consumption can add too much salt to one’s diet.

 

How To Make Umeboshi At Home

This Umeboshi recipe is not for the light-hearted or impatient.  If you are of the said type, you can find pre-made umeboshi in jars at your local Japanese or Asian foods store.

Ingredients and Equipment

  • Ume Plums
  • Coarse Seas Salt
  • Red Shiso Leaves
  • Shochu (Can use vodka or other distilled alcohol if needed)
  • Bowls
  • Flat Baskets
  • Large wide-mouth container
  • Weights (Can use water in tightly sealed plastic bags)
  • Large Jars

Prepping the Ume

When you buy them, make sure you choose ones that are firm, plump and unblemished. Even small blemishes or cuts on the plums could lead to mold, which is the biggest reason umeboshi can fail. Once you have the ume plums, carefully remove any remaining stems. The best way to do this is with a cocktail stick. Try not to pierce the ume plum when you’re doing this – again, this can lead to mold. Once the stems are removed, wash the plums in several changes of water, and then fill a large bowl with cold water and leave the ume plums to soak overnight. This gets rid of some of the bitterness in the plums.

After soaking overnight, drain and dry the plums. Made ready a bowl of shochu or vodka, and dunk the ume plums completely in the alcohol. This is to kill any kind of mold spores on the surface.

Prepping the Red Shiso Leaves

Red shiso or perilla leaves give color and flavor to the umeboshi. Use about 10% of the ume plus in weight of shiso leaves – so for 1 kilo of ume plums, use 100g of shiso leaves. Wash them, take off any tough stems, sprinkle with a little salt and massage the leaves with your hands until they are limp.

Salt Ratio for Fermenting

Traditional umeboshi uses around 20% salt, which is fairly salty.  You can lower the salt percentage if you choose, but beware that the lower the salt ratio the higher risk of mold developing.  So we suggest starting at 10% or 12% for beginners.

Here’s the amount of salt vs. ume plums at different percentages:

  • 8%: For every 1 kilo of ume plums, use 80 grams of salt
  • 10%: For every 1 kilo of ume plums, use 100 grams of salt
  • 12%: For every 1 kilo of ume plums, use 120 grams of salt

Getting Pickling Container Ready

Use a large, wide-mouth jar or other fairly deep container. Wash it inside and out thorougly, then disinfect the inside. Some people do this by putting the container in boiling water, but the most common – and convenient – way is to spray it with some shochu or vodka.

Filling the Pickling Container

Start with a layer of coarse salt. Cover with a layer of ume plums, then a bit of the shiso. Repeat the salt-ume-shiso layers, until the ume are used up. Now, cover the whole thing with a plastic bag or sheet, then put on a weight that is at least half as heavy as the ume plums – in other words, 1 kilo of ume plums requires at least a 500g weight.

While there are dedicated ceramic weights available, you can use anything you can find such as a bagful of water (as long as it doesn’t leak), a full water bottle, clean rocks in a plastic bag, hand weights or dumbbells, and so on.

Once the container is full and weighted down, cover the top with a clean, porous cloth like a cheesecloth or open weave kitchen towel; secure this with a rubber band or string. Leave in a cool, dark area of your house, until the ume plums become soft and completely immersed in a reddish liquid.

Once the liquid is about 2 cm above the top of the ume plums, reduce the weight by half, and leave the ume plums in the jar in the liquid until it’s time to dry them in the sun.

Drying Out

Take the plums and the shiso leaves out of the jar. Put the ume plums in a single layer on flat baskets, and the shiso leaves in spread-put clumps separately.

Leave the plums like this in a fairly sunny place with good ventilation, for about 3 days. If it rains, take them inside before they get wet. Turn them over at least once a day.

Finish

The umeboshi are now done. You can store them as-is, in a jar, layering plums with the shiso leaves. Or you can pour back in some of the ume vinegar, to give them a softer texture.

Umeboshi improves with age for a few years. The best time to start eating them 3 years after making them, though you can eat them right away. The best time flavor wise is at the 5 year mark. Do not store over 10 years, as they will start getting mushy, if stored with a liquid, or dry and brittle.

Alternate Umeboshi: White Umeboshi

You can make umeboshi without the red shiso leaves. This results in light brown umeboshi and an almost clear ume vinegar.

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