Umeboshi Plums

Umeboshi Plums

Umeboshi means "dried plum." The plant was introduced to Japan some thousand years ago and became more popular there than it was in its native China. Its sharp, tart taste is the result of combining yin, green, sour plums with yang raw salt. The Japanese plum is now a rounder and fatter variety than the original Chinese fruit, which would seem to have a protruding navel as well! The umeboshi blossom, appearing in the cold of later February rivals the famous cherry for beauty in Japan. The fruit is gathered while it is still green and is packed in vats with raw salt, which draws out a liquid called plum vinegar. The purple shiso, or beefsteak, leaves are placed over the plums and the color dyes them a deep red and helps to preserve them. By mid-July, when the rains end and the sun shines, the plums can be spread out, dried and returned to the umeboshi vinegar.

Umeboshi's flavor is somewhat similar to that of anchovies—without the fishy taste! They are eaten daily in the Orient and have been attributed the medicinal properties of helping digestion, settling the stomach and maintaining the slightly alkaline condition of the blood. They are certainly an invaluable condiment: Their sharp, sour, tangy taste helps to flavor salads. Try slicing one into apple juice, sesame oil and tamari soy for a dressing. It is also good as spread on sweet corn cobs or placed in the center of a rice ball to preserve it. This preservative factor is due to perilla aldehyde, which when ingested also helps clear the intestinal tract.