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How to eat umeboshi?

A friend of ours got us a small package of umeboshi as a present. These are small, pickled Japanese plums, apparently from a very exclusive type of plum tree. They are very cute, and our friend said they are very expensive.

We tried one and have to say it was nearly inedible -- very, very salty, like eating pure salt. No other flavor is discernible. The label says that each 8 gram plum has 710 mg of salt, more than 4x the salt in a can of tuna fish! We eat all kinds of varied foods from all over the world but there's no way we could keep one of these down.

Are these really intended to be eaten straight, or is this a preservative, or a seasoning? One plum would be more than enough salt for a pot of soup. Or are they intended to be soaked and de-salted, like salt cod? The package did not give any instructions.

I've Googled around and there are numerous articles about the nutritional wonders of umeboshi, but I can't imagine that eating 700 mg of salt in one bite could possibly be good for you.

Thanks,
Uncle

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  1. Hi Uncle,

    Madhur Jaffrey's "World of the East Vegetarian Cooking" claims that they're eaten at breakfast - presumably straight up - in Japan. She does mention that they can be used as seasoning, however (presumably in little bitty pieces?).

    Good luck!

    1. If you had posted this on the General Chowhounding Topics board, I'm sure Sam F could chime in.

      Umeboshi is a tsukemono. It is NOT intended to just be popped in the mouth and eaten. I usually eat it with plain white rice, with ochazuke (tea and rice), or inside a rice ball. They are way too salty and sour to eat plain.

      2 Replies
      1. re: filth

        Filth - ou can eat tsukemono plain, no problem!

        "Tsukemono" simply means "marinated thing" - so this can refer to a whole range of things, many of which can be eaten as-is - and are delicious that way!

        Uncle -
        Umeboshi is an acquired taste, and many Japanese people (like myself) eat them plain all of the time. You may find it odd, but consider that its just a cultural thing (in many parts of asia many people find eating Chicken breast meat disgusting and unflavorsome, preferring wing tips and neck, for example)

        I find a great classic way to enjoy the flavor is to combine it with "shiso" leaf with chicken or pork skewers, or simply on a bowl of rice as Filth mentioned.

        Often, people will add umeboshi to the bottom of their "shochu" (a single distillation spirit, like grappa) cocktail - which I think is great as well.

        Enjoy!
        Yukiko

        1. re: yukiko

          Thank you for the feedback! Most helpful.

          A few years ago I was on a business trip in Japan for a week and got the royal treatment -- a dedicated guide and all. We had a multi-hour dinner at the top of the Yokahama Tower, various foods and cuisines in both urban and rural Japan, etc. It was wonderful. Honestly I didn't recognize about 80% of what I ate, but it was all good. However, I don't remember anything like this umeboshi! Maybe I missed out.

          I am wondering if we got a particularly salty version of this delicacy. Honestly there is no flavor at all -- not sour, not acidic, just like pouring a teaspoon of salt on your tongue. I am afraid if I acquired the taste, I'd be dead of high blood pressure before I finished!

          Uncle

      2. I love umeboshi, but I have to admit, I don't really like the overly salty ones. (And I'm Japanese!) They range in salty/sweetness, and I always get the "low sodium" ones which taste slightly sweeter.

        If it's strictly salty and not too sweet, I'm not sure if it would work, but I put my umeboshi (finely chopped up) in eggs (not scrambled, but layered-- we call it tamago yaki).

        You can also eat it with plain rice.

        My favorite is with cucumbers in a Japanese style salad. Get a Japanese cucumber (very thin skin, very few or small seeds) or a kirby cucumber if the long thin Japanese ones are not available. Slice them roughly into 1inch chunks. The umeboshi "dressing" is just a few umeboshi meats (finely chopped up), add ground sesame seeds, maybe katsuo bushi, if you have access to it, and since it already has enough sodium, instead of soy sauce, add a small bit of mirin. (Less than a tablespoon; just enough to wet the ground sesame seeds and umeboshi to make a sort of paste. Then I coat the cucumbers with this and let it sit.

        5 Replies
        1. re: anzu

          uncle, did your umeboshi come packed on the drier side, or with some of the delicious umeboshi vinegar (pickling liquid)? That stuff is pure culinary gold.

          I like to use a few drops of umeboshi vinegar mixed with tahini and plain water to make the most unbelievably delicoius salad dressing.

          If you're still stuck for umeboshi ideas, consult a macrobiotic recipe site or cookbook. Theyr'e obsessed with them!

          1. re: f_diva

            On a related note, a few years ago I found in my local Japnese Supermaket a package of Raw umeboshi plums (presuably for those who wish to pickle thier own) My question is are umeboshi plums actually plums? they seemed to have some very un-plum like charcteristics such as fuzzy green skina and were extmely small about the size of an english greengage (for those who have never seen an english greengage it a bit bigger than a cherry) when i opend one up, the pit looked odd too it was plum sized (regarless of the size of the plum i find that the pit is usally about the same size) plum shaped, (flat) but had a peach pits pits (those litte holes in the side) so my question is are these umeboshi plums actually plums or some sort of plum/peach hybrid fruit (like nectarines)?

            1. re: jumpingmonk

              In Japanese, they are just "ume", which is usually translated as "plum". But the wikipedia article says they are closer to apricots....With that bag you found at the store, I think it's more likely people make their own "ume-shu" (plum wine) rather than their own umeboshi.

              1. re: Silverjay

                You proalby right about the Ume-shu. I'd always assumed plum wine was made of plum juice; i had not idea it was simply rice wine with plum infusion. the articles say P. Mume is small and fuzzy so that seems to match. now if I could only find a good online photo of a pit to be sure... Pity none of them came up the trees look really pretty and I could have used a pollinator for my Hiawatha peach tree.

                1. re: jumpingmonk

                  At home, ume-shu is usually made from korui shochu. In Japan, you can buy kits for making ume-shu at supermarkets or liquor shops.

        2. I don't know many people that eat umeboshi straight; in my admittedly limited experience it's mostly used as a seasoning and/or a medicine.

          Umeboshi are sour beause of the citirc acid, sweet because it's a fruit, and salty because they're preserved in salt. The redness happens when they are preserved with red shiso. (If you've ever had sushi with a green saw-toothed leaf as an [edible] garnish, that's probably green shiso.)

          I make quick pickles with them (dissolved in water), or rub them lightly on corn on the cob instead of butter or (usually) in addition to. They are used in in rolled sushi (in addition to the rice dishes already mentioned) either alone or as a seasoning. The "vinegar" is really juice left over from the pickling, and is *really* strong. There are a lot of uses for them!

          It is also available as a paste -- easier to use as seasoning but I prefer to squish 'em up myself. (It's easy -- the insides are really soft unless dried.) They're not at that expensive, generally, unless there are some extra fancy ones I don't know about, and not much is needed. They're available in most health food stores and asian markets. Refrigerated they last a long, long, time.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Richard 16

            There actually are expensive ones. They are my favorite "souvenirs" from Japan, and what I spend my money on. I get the soft, large salty (as opposed to having any sweet flavor) ones from Mitsukoshi or Takashimaya. A medium container (maybe about 1 lb?) can cost $100 and IMHO is totally worth it!

          2. If you want use them the traditional way just so you can say you did, you can make those giant triangular sushi rice-balls (onigiri, see picture) and embed one piece of umeboshi in each. Make sure you don't choke on the pit when eating, though.

            Personally I just like to mash them up and mix it thoroughly with japanese rice, or even as a condiment with plain congee. I think the combination is especially good for summer to stimulate the appetite, when it gets too warm.

             
            1. I'm curious if your umeboshi were soft and squishy or hard? I LOVE the soft and squishy ones but haven't ever warmed up to the hard, marble-like ones. A friend brought me some a couple of years ago from Japan that are individually packaged and I'm still working on them (just a little too salty for me). I just love them (soft ones) with plain rice but I'll try the corn idea... interesting. I think it's odd that yours are just salty and not sour at all... most of the ones I've eaten can make you pucker.

              3 Replies
              1. re: Sushiqueen36

                This my favorite corn mix: Browned or plain butter, umeboshi, roast garlic, EVOO, and maybe salt - as you know umeboshi is very salty - to taste. All pasted together and lathered on. I can't give you proportions; I made it up and I've never measured...

                1. re: Richard 16

                  Sounds great! I'm going to have to try it. I wonder how your concoction would taste on pasta....

                  1. re: Sushiqueen36

                    Pretty good. I've only done it once, with leftover corn stuff. Next time I'll use less umeboshi and maybe some chiffonade of shiso (when it comes in on the back porch) or basil (ditto). Some parsley might work. Hmmm... C'mon herbs!

              2. You eat a whole umeboshi with about two bowls of hot gohan (Japanese cooked rice). Can constitute a meal. Its the combo of hot rice and the salty ume!! Only way, but you might have to born into eating it (which by the way is not a plum).

                1. I know this was asked a long time ago, but I was so surprised to see a thread about umeboshi, I had to respond. The way we love to eat umeboshi plum is to put it on corn on the cob. I buy the Eden brand umeboshi paste and also the whole plums, with shiso leaves, which I like too. If you like rice balls, rice cones, sushi, and bowls of rice, you can mix a quarter or a half a plum in. They are salty, but they're good for seasoning because of this. That cucumber salad idea sounds good. Another good dressing is ume tahini dressing. Put a whole plum (minus the pit) in a suribachi or mortar and pestle, and mix it up with a little water, rice vinegar, mirin, and tahini. You can add grated or sauteed onion if you wish- great over blanched or steamed yellow squash or other summer vegetables! If my daughter has a headache from over-indulging in sweets or something at a friend's house, I always give her a sheet of nori spread with umeboshi paste, or a small amount of ume plum or paste. It is high in sodium, but if you're not eating too much other salty or processed food, a little bit is very good.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: J.e.m.

                    So happy to have found this. Back in the 70's there was a wonderful tiny vegetarian restaurant in downtown Newmarket, NH that served an amazing salad dressing made with umeboshi. I think of it often and wish I had gotten the recipe. I just bought a jar of umeboshi at my local health food store and was hoping to try to make some. I will try this one with tahini but would love to know any others--AND if anyone else remembers this restaurant let me know!

                    1. re: J.e.m.

                      Yes! I love Eden umeboshi paste on corn on the cob! It's so sour and salty and sweet all at the same time. I've gotten other people to try it but nobody likes it but me.

                    2. I'm watching an old episode of Iron Chef and umeboshi is the ingredient so I googled it and found this thread. Iron Chef Michiba soaked his and the announcer said it was to rid them of the excess saltiness.

                      1. Think of umeboshi as the apple cider vinegar cure-all of Japan, it's an acquired taste, and USED to be po'folks food. You would get a whole lunchbox of rice with one umeboshi in the middle, and it's powerful enough to flavor the whole meal, one bit of plum to each mouthful of rice. Add hot tea and you're back to work. Also its a representation of the Japanese flag, a very patriotic lunch.

                        1. I see this is an old thread, but I will offer my comments since umeboshi is a staple in our house.
                          1) Put an umeboshi into a mug add boiling water. Wait a minute and "mash" the umeboshi-it makes a nice "tea." I do the same with hot sake.
                          2) Rice balls as mentioned but also, simple maki-we make cucumber-ume rolls. Delicious.
                          3) Chicken thighs with umeboshi-my wife makes this chicken dish with shiso and scallions.
                          This is not her recipe, but its similar. http://www.bento.com/trt-chickenthigh...
                          4) Salad dressing-we make this dressing and serve it over julienned daikon and carrot.
                          2 tablespoons sesame oil, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 tablespoons sugar, 2 tablespoons rice vinegar, 1 teaspoon ground black pepper, 1 tablespoon mayonnaise, 1 teaspoon lemon juice, pulp from one or two umeboshi, sprinkle of black sesame seeds. That is an estimated recipe as we dont really measure. Pour the dressing over the daikon and the carrot-let it marinate for at least an hour.
                          5) We use it in ochazuke and fried rice dishes as well. My kids love dried umeboshi flakes over rice.

                          We dont usually soak the umeboshi before using it. We usually buy katsuome umeboshi-it has a bonito flavor and has less salt (according to my wife).

                            1. I eat the hard, drier ones plain. The juicier ones make a great treatment if you have a cold: Boil some rice and keep adding water until the rice starts to create a "gruel". Add umeboshi to taste, and mash up with a spoon. Absolutely delish--I don't wait for a cold to eat it. A variation is to cook the rice in chicken broth.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Enso

                                I like making cocktails with umeboshi - mash up an umeboshi with a couple pinches of sugar and add ice, gin and soda. It's an interesting taste, kinda salty and sour, a nice change from the generally super-sweet drinks available!!

                                A little basil is nice in this too, or probably mint.

                              2. Umeboshi usually are not eaten straight. As traditionally Japanese were eating a lot of plain rice, the salty umeboshi was a way of seasoning the rice too (same principle for Miso Soup). There are many types of Umeboshi. White ones are made just of salt and ume, red ones include red shiso. They also vary in size or percentage of salt. Very good ume qualities also can mature for 3 to 5 years. This blog site gives a very good overview on the different types of umeboshi:

                                http://nihon-ichiban.com/2012/05/25/u...

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Nsoergel

                                  Eaten straight is great for the harder/drier ones--yum! I've never gotten any version of one that's too salty. And I almost never salt my food at home, so I'm pretty sensitive to the taste of it.