Native to China, ume 梅:うめ or Japanese green plum are the fruits that are used to make umeboshi (pickled plum) and Japanese plum wine. These young bright green fruits are commonly consumed in East Asia for their medicinal health benefits. In Korea, ume are known as maesil and they are used to make maesil chung, Korean Green Plum Syrup. Although they are often referred as a 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.
umeboshi (Japanese pickled plums)
How are Ume 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.
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. 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.
Make Plum Wine with Ume Japanese Green Plums
One of the most exciting ways to enjoy these sour green plums is to make plum wine or Umeshu (梅酒) with them! If you can get hold of ume when they are in season, you want to grab them by a pound. 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 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 decided to give it a try, here is my homemade plum wine recipe.
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 buy Ume (Japanese Green Plums)?
From mid-May to early June, you can find ume plums in both Japanese and Korean grocery stores.
Fresh Ume (Japanese Green Plums) in Season
If you live in the Bay Area, you can contact John (415-297-1558 or sudachi.lover @ gmail. com) at Indian Valley Organic Farm to reserve your ume now for $6-8 per pound (up to 15 lbs and quantities above 15 lbs would be at a wholesale price (TBA)). The pickup location will be in San Rafael. The harvest date fluctuates, but he anticipates a harvest date in early to mid-May.
I hope you enjoy learning about ume plums and making plum wine at the same time.