Umeboshi is a Japanese food often translated as “pickled plums.” Despite this common moniker, it is actually made from the ume fruit, which is more closely related to an apricot than a plum. This pickled fruit has a distinct flavor that is a combination of sweet, salty, and sour.
This Japanese pickle is typically prepared by soaking the ume fruits in water and salt with a few red shiso leaves added for color. This item is prepared at home by some Japanese families, though it is also readily available in stores. Packaged umeboshi can be found in Japanese markets, and occasionally in Chinese markets, or in the Asian-foods section of large grocery stores.
In Japan, the Wakayama area is the top producer of umeboshi. Minabe, a town in Wakayama, produces the most ume of any town in Japan. Though specific recipes for this pickled fruit may vary from one producer to the next, it is always high in sodium due to the large amount of salt required for its preparation.
One of the more traditional ways to prepare umeboshi is to stuff the small pickled fruit inside a rice ball. This can be served for either lunch or dinner. The fruits can also be used in sushi dishes or salad dressings. Some more adventurous diners will even drop a single pickled ume fruit into a glass of vodka.
These small fruits have pit that must be removed before the umebashi is consumed. The pit is often removed during the meal’s preparation, however some umeboshi dishes contain whole umeboshi with the pits still inside. Though umeboshi are most commonly purchased whole, the fruits are also pureed into a paste, which can be purchased to use in soups and sauces.
In addition to being flavorful, this Japanese fruit product has a plethora of purported health benefits. It is believed to soothe diarrhea, vomiting, and indigestion. Viral infections and bacterial infections can be treated with the fruit as well. Rather than eating the whole pickled ume, a tea is often made from it for these medicinal treatments.
Just as the apple is considered an important fruit to consume each day in Western medicine, a pickled plum a day is considered equally beneficial among the Japanese. In Japan, meals are sometimes followed with a single umeboshi. This is consumed plain to aid in digestion and promote general health.