Umeboshi (梅干) is salted Japanese pickled plums. They take a good level of effort to make properly, but well worth it. Packed with umami, saltiness, and subtle floral aromas, a little goes a long way. Ume are traditionally cured at the beginning of the dry season (mid-July) in Japan. Fortunately, farmers in the U.S. are now growing this specific style of plum that lends itself to this fermentation. You can find fresh ume seasonally, starting in late spring in California.
You can find already-made umeboshi in Japanese markets, but beware! Most are fast-processed, and contain preservatives and artificial colors. The ingredients should just be plum, salt, and maybe sesame or perilla (aka shiso) leaves. Out of 10 or so brands I perused recently, just one was the real deal (and they were a bit pricier than the cheaper processed ones).
While we haven’t gotten past eating them from the jar and daring our friends who’ve never tried one to see the look on their faces when they bite one, they’re really good on top of plain old rice. And we have tinkered with a cultured ice cream recipe using these tasty little gems.
- 700g (about 1½ lbs.) unripe ume, Japanese plums
- 2 cups vodka, shoju or other neutrally flavored cheap distilled spirit (at least 80 proof/40% abv)
- 100g (1/4 lb.) sea salt
- 100g (1/4 lb.) red shiso (aka perilla) leaves
Phase I: Initial Pickling (1 month)
Phase II: Sun-Drying plums (3 days)
Phase III: Fermentation (1 or more years)
And are you looking for something non-traditional to use your umeboshi in? Why not ice cream?