Japanese plums (ume fruits) come into season bright green and firm in early to mid-May each year. The plums are enjoyed in numerous ways, especially as Japanese plum wine, syrup, and pickled plums.
What Are Ume Plums?
Ume plums grow on large, broad-leaved trees with a very short growing season. The young bright green fruits are slightly smaller than a golfball, and green to yellowish-green in color. When they are ripe, they have a peach-colored flush on them.
The fruits usually start ripening in late spring and lasting through early summer. Ripen, blushed ume are used to make umeboshi.
Although they are often referred to as plum, ume is actually an apricot, with a botanical name as Prunus mume.
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 store 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 and so on.
Health Benefits of Ume Plums
Throughout East Asia, ume plums have long been regarded for its medicinal properties. When raw, they contain few vitamins and minerals. However, when pickled into umeboshi, they transform into a powerful food with high nutritional values.
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.