Japanese plums (ume fruits) come into season bright green and firm in early to mid-May each year. Known for its tartness and health benefits, the plums are enjoyed in numerous ways, especially as Japanese plum wine, syrup, and pickled plums.
What Are Ume Plums?
These young bright green fruits are commonly consumed in East Asia for their medicinal health benefits. In Korea, ume plums are known as maesil and they are used to make maesil chung, Korean Green Plum Syrup. Although they are often referred to as plum, ume is actually an apricot, with a botanical name as Prunus mume.
Ume plums grow on large broad-leaved trees with a very short growing season. The fruits usually start ripening in late spring and lasting through early summer. Known for its beautiful pink flowering, the plum blossom is a special time for the Japanese as it signals the end of winter and the arrival of spring.
How Are Ume Plums Being Used?
Ume are extremely tart, astringent, and bitter, therefore they are not for eating raw – they will cause you a stomachache. However, they are perfectly safe to eat when salted or preserved in alcohol; or fermented into wine known as Umeshu (梅酒).
To make this healthy delicious sweet wine, you just need to steep the fresh ume in shochu (Japanese white distilled liquor) and rock sugar and then stored in a dark cool place for up to a year until it is ready to be enjoyed. The liqueur is lightly sweet with an incredibly fragrant aroma, which makes it a great drink to enjoy.
If you’re not an alcoholic drinker, try making Ume Plum Syrup. My kids and I love this syrup and dilute it with carbonated water to enjoy during summer months.
In Japan, the most common way to use ume plum is to pickle them with salt to make umeboshi (salted pickled plums). We usually serve umeboshi with rice, rice balls (onigiri) or as a delightful sour agent to pasta or salad dressing. We also extract the juice from ume and ferment it with sugar and salt.
Umeboshi (Japanese pickled plums)
Another popular product from ume is ume plum vinegar, which is made from the pickling brine from making umeboshi plums with sea salt and red shiso.
The “ume” flavor is so distinct and popular that in Japan you can get all manner of ume-flavored items – ume tea, ume ice cream
Health Benefits of Ume Plums
Throughout East Asia, ume plums have long been regarded for its medicinal properties. In Japan, they have been used to treat illnesses and help bodies to recover from fatigue since the olden days. The high acidity in the green plums is said to have an alkalizing effect on the body, therefore it can help the body to eliminate toxins, regains energy, stimulate digestion, and promote healthy guts.
Where to Get Ume Plums
Green ume plums are available around early to mid-May. In Japan, you can spot them in almost all markets.
If you live in the United States, you can contact my friend John to reserve your ume plums for $8 per pound. The plums can be picked up in San Rafael (SF Bay Area) or shipped to your home.
You can also find ume plums in both Japanese and Korean grocery stores, or specialty fruit producers online.
Thanks to its fruity sour-tart complexity, ume plums make a versatile ingredient to use in your everyday cooking.