Before I get into the details of Umeboshi, I think it is important to point out that I love Umeboshi. You should therefore read this post with that in mind.
I was first exposed to Umeboshi at Shibata Sensei XX’s house. It was the day after I arrived at his house for one of my visits. He pulled out a fairly large container of round red wrinkled fruit looking things, opened it and offered me one. I put it in my mouth and almost spit it out. It was salty, sour and the texture wasn’t that great. Sensei told me to eat more after I finished (with some effort) the first one. I declined. He then informed me that the Samurai use to eat them everyday. So I had another.
The next meal I was offered more and once again told about how “true” samurai would eat them all the time. It was almost as if I was being sold something by a very high pressure sales person. So I asked Sensei why he was strongly “suggesting” that I eat so many of these, at the time, nasty things. He finally admitted that the Umeboshi I was eating were made in Japan by a family that was famous for producing very high quality and very expensive Umeboshi. It turns out that this family had given Sensei a large supply of them for when he was in the USA. That way he would never run out. It also turns out that Sensei had not eaten any of them and the family that gave him the container full was coming to visit him in the near future. He was concerned that they would figure out that he had not even touched them and that was not acceptable to him. So the solution that he came up with was that I was to consume the entire contain full of Umeboshi before I left for home (5 days later).
I could tell that this really bothered him and I knew what I had to do. I had to consume over $500 in Umeboshi in 5 days. Yep, that’s right, I was eating $100 of Umeboshi a day. By the time I was finished, I loved them. So what is an Umeboshi?
Umeboshi is a pickled ume fruit. Here in the USA people commonly call them “pickled Plums” which isn’t really accurate. They are not plums. Umes are closer to what we call apricots.
Umeboshi is made by placing ripe ume fruit in a barrel with a large quantity of salt. The combination is slowly compressed to extract the juices from the fruit which forms a pickle brine. The salty brine is called Umezu and is used in many Japanese dishes as a “vinegar”. This process of compressing lasts around one month. The ume is then removed and sun-dried for about one week. Red Shiso (akajiso) leaves are added to the brine, which turns it a bright red and acts as a preservative.
The ume is then added back into the brine/leaf mixture for five more days. This is what gives them their red color. They are then removed and placed in kegs to age for at least a year before being packaged and sold.
Umeboshi is commonly served with white rice. Typically one will be placed in the center of the rice so that the rice/Umeboshi combination looks like the Japanese Flag.
If you get a chance, give them a try. Just remember, it might require eating several before you come to “appreciate” them as I do.
Something to think about….