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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.