Umeboshi, Japanese pickled plums, is one of Japan’s tastiest superfoods. Learn how to make umeboshi from scratch today! They’ll bring depth, colour, and rich flavour to just about anything! A step by step umeboshi recipe is added.
Umeboshi (Japanese Pickled Plum)
Tangy, salty, condensed flavour with subtle sweetness, umeboshi is super healthy and versatile. It’s one of the indispensable ingredients of Japanese cuisine. It’s no wonder that people go a bit crazy about it!
If you’re yet to try pickled Japanese plums or heard about them, you’re in for a treat. Umeboshi is receiving lots of attention beyond Japan these days.
They’re the perfect addition to rice bowls, salads, great as an appetizer with other pickles, and an ideal accompaniment as a side dish to so much more. These sour plums are among some of the most used everyday ingredients in Japan.
Learn how to make umeboshi from scratch today! Read on for our umeboshi recipe!
What is umeboshi?
Umeboshi is a traditional Japanese pickled plum. Plum in Japanese is ume, and boshi means drying. These salted plums are pickled and then dried in the sun for preservation. The drying process intensifies the flavour of the plum as does the pickling.
With aka shiso herb (red perilla), the colour can vary dependent on how many perilla leaves you add or how long you pickle the plums for. I enjoy making umeboshi every year and find it fun that it’s never the same colour.
Health benefit of umeboshi
These pickled Japanese ume plums have an amazing health benefit. Umeboshi really is a super food (source). They can help with fatigue, improve the immune system and digestion, and reduce obesity. In Japan, we say that there’s “no need to visit a medical doctor if you eat one umeboshi a day”.
The term ‘umeboshi‘ was first recorded in Japan’s oldest medical book “Ishinho“. The book was written by a court physician, TANBA no Yasuyori, in the mid 10th century Heian period. It’s not surprising that initially umeboshi was used as a medicine among the privileged. Much later on, it became popularized among ordinary people.
So why not make your own and have one a day? Read on!
Why this Pickled Plum Recipe is so Good?
Andy discovered umeboshi when he first traveled to Japan. He quickly came to love ume plums and eats them almost every day now! When we go to the local Japanese grocery store, he often buys them, and they can be a bit expensive outside Japan.
So I’ve decided to dust off my pickled plum recipe! Homemade umeboshi is better than shop bought and is fun to make. You get a real sense of satisfaction when you use some from your homemade jar!
1. It’s fun!
Making umeboshi takes a bit of time and effort but is fun to do! Before I first made it, I thought it would be difficult to make. It’s not difficult but involves in a few steps. I’ll show you how to make it step-by-step.
Follow this umeboshi recipe with photos as you make it.
My pickling method has been inherited from my mother, which was inherited from her mother. I am here to share everything I know with you! Fermented Japanese ume plums involve a few important processes, and I’ll take you through them step by step!
These sour plums are versatile! Umeboshi plums help you enrich everyday cooking in lots of ways. Healthyish calls umeboshi a ‘vegan flavour bomb’, and I agree (source). You can keep these pickled salty plums in your pantry and use them to enhance a variety of dishes. (See ‘How to use umeboshi’ below.)
Ingredients for Japanese Pickled Plums
All you need for my umeboshi recipe is three ingredients:
- Ume plums
- Sea salt
- Aka shiso herb (red perilla)
1. Ume plums
There are two main ume fruit types. One is greener which are harvested before getting ripe and mature. These green ume plums are not suitable for pickling but perfect for plum wine. It’s a delicious plum beverage, umeshu which I love!
The other is a yellowy and golden colour ume plum. If you pickle them, umeboshi becomes softer and full of flavour. If you can’t find them, leave the green plums at room temperature for a few days or longer. Use once the colours change to yellow. Just check out how the colours go every day.
WHERE TO FIND THE UMEBOSHI PLUM
You can find the ume fruit at most local Japanese, Asian grocery stores or online. Plum season is early summer. Be aware from the mid May to early June, or preorder them at the shop if you live in the Northern hemisphere.
2. Sea salt
For this salted plum recipe, coarse salt, arajio, is best for pickling ume fruit. Salt helps to release the acid from the plums. I prefer a coarse sea salt for these Japanese salted plums.
It’s important to use salt equal to 20% of the ume plum weight. This helps ensure no mould develops on the ume plums.
3. Red shiso herb
Aka shiso herb is a Japanese red herb. It’s red perilla in English. It adds intense red colour to the plums. I’ve made beni shoga, pickled red ginger, with this red shiso.
I didn’t want to miss adding the colour to the plums this year. So I sowed red perilla seeds and planted them at home in early Spring in case if I could not find them.
Where to find aka shiso herb?
You can find it at Japanese or Asian grocery stores from June to July. Aka shiso can be in stock a little later than the plums at the shop. So, you can just need to wait for it.
If you have to buy the herb before you start pickling the ume fruit, soak kitchen paper with water and wrap up their roots or root branches with it. Leave it in the fridge. This will help the herb last longer.
What if there is no red shiso herb at the shop
If you cannot find fresh red shiso, no problem. You can still make umeboshi without it. Actually it’s called shiroboshi. No red colour will be added to plums, but the fragrance of plums themselves is more intensified.
Ziploc bags: for pickling plums inside of the bags. Ziploc bacs is handy for pickling. Not only that I’ve found pickling with them prevents salty plums from getting mouldy.
Weight: You need a stone or other forms of weight which is equal to the weight of the plums. This is to weigh the plums down and extract the plum vinegar from the plums.
Large plate or bowl for placing it under ziploc bags in case the ume plum juice leaks out of them.
Strainer: Prepare a large flat strainer to dry out pickled salty plums and red perilla leaves. I used a bamboo strainer for drying the plums, and a net for drying the herb.
How to Make Umeboshi
Making Japanese pickled plums is straightforward. One thing you need to pay attention is to keep all the container and utensils clean and hygienic to ensure longer preservation. You need to wash hands properly.
Make sure the ziploc bags and utensils are all clean. I use vodka. Soak the kitchen paper with it, and wipe out inside of the ziploc bags. If they are not clean enough, it may cause mould to grow on the ingredients.
Sea salt and umeboshi are mixed together and rested in the ziploc bags for one week. Make the bag doubled in case the plum vinegar leaks. Plums release vinegar, umezu, with a weight. This helps to intensify nutrition and prevents mould.
- If the plum vinegar is not made, add more weight.
- Remove the excessive plum vinegar with a large spoon from the bag. The plum vinegar should be enough to just cover the plums.
After mixing up plums with salt, water is released in the ziploc bag a week later or less. It’s plum vinegar, umezu. The plum vinegar should cover the plums. This helps to prevent moulding. The excess of umezu can be removed and kept in the fridge.
The secret of vivid red plum colour is red perilla leaves. The importance is to rub them with salt well and remove the foam of the plant to remove the bitterness. If you skip this process, the colours will not be as bright and red.
I also used the red umezu to add the intense colour to Japanese pickled red ginger, beni shoga, which we love.
The pickled salty plums and red perilla need to be dried in the direct sunlight for ‘three days’ after mixing them in the ziplock bag. So make sure that you will have the three continuous sunny days with the weather forecast in advance.
I removed them from the plum vinegar ziplock bags and dry them from 9 am to 4 pm in the direct sunlight. It’s important to keep them inside during the evening. Turn over each plum with clean fingers or chopsticks. As they are rather sticky, turn over them in the morning. This helps their skins not to be sticking on the sieve.
After drying pickled salty plums, they now have wrinkles and salt on their surface. Transfer them into a glass jar or ceramic container. Add plum vinegar and dried red perilla.
You can now eat umeboshi, but if you keep them further three months, they become less salty and milder. You will love the salty, vinegary, rich umeboshi.
That’s it! Serve!
How to use umeboshi
These pickled plums can be served with lots of dishes – from salads, to rice bowls, or as a side dish or appetizer. They are delicious and, frankly, addictive! Try to keep it to one per day.
RECIPES WITH UMEBOSHI
- Ume chazuke (Japan’s soul food, green tea poured over rice with umeboshi)
- Umeboshi dressing (umeboshi, olive oil and black pepper served with fresh vegetables)
- Umeboshi sauce (used for any cooking by mixing up with other seasonings)
- Okayu (topping umeboshi on Japanese rice porridge)
- Umeboshi paste (pureed umeboshi, can be grilled, steamed or deep fried with various ingredients)
Umeboshi has anti-bacterial effects. This is why it is:
- Added to onigiri (Japanese rice balls)
- Topped on the rice in a bento box
You bought the ingredients, salted and pickled, if they are mouldy, it’s really upsetting. This is something I really don’t want to let happen. The following things prevents your plums from developing mould:
- Clean and wash your hands well always.
- Clean the plums and the red perilla leaves well.
- Use only clean containers and equipment.
- Add salt which is 20% of ume fruit weight and not less.
- Remove damaged ume plums (e.g. the surfaces of the ume are broken or cut).
Also check out the ‘Trouble Shooting Tips’ section below.
Tips for Pickling Umaboshi
How to store umeboshi
These Japanese sour plums can be preserved at least for a year. They should be kept at room temperature and in a darkroom. It’s convenient to keep some of the umeboshi in a small bottle for use in the pantry.
Please note that due to the strong acidity, the lid of the container should not be metal. I use glass or ceramic jars for storing.
What to do with leftover ume vinegar
After the plums and salt are mixed together, ume plum vinegar is made. It’s used for colouring pickled salty plums. You can also use it for:
- Beni shoga
- Ume sour juice
Find out their detailed recipes and photos and enrich your everyday vegetarian home cooking!
What to do with leftover red shiso herb
After being cleaned with sea salt, red perilla leaves are used for the colouring. Dry them out under the direct sunlight.
The dried red perilla leaves are called yukari and are enjoyed as a condiment in Japan. I love it! Top of your rice bowl with it.
Yukari is made after processing with a food processor. Enjoy the yukari condiment with rice. Keep it in the airtight container.
Trouble shooting tips!
You have done all the things and followed the instructions I shared with you, but you are not sure if your pickling is going well. Here are some tips:
Red perilla moulding
Remove the moulded part. Throw it out.
Take out the plums and plum liquid around together with a large spoon. Heat up and boil them for a few minutes. Dry them out in the direct sunlights and return them into the ziploc bag.
Not sure whether it’s mould or salt?
Moulding may happen while the salted plums are soaked with plum vinegar. If the colour is black or orange, it’s mould.
When you dry plums, it may look moulded but sometimes it’s just the salt emerging from the plum. Again, look for a black or orange colour for the mould.
Easy Homemade Umeboshi Recipe
Salty plum pickles
- 1 kg plum (ripe and yellowy golden coloured) (if green, leave for a few days at room temperature)
- 200 g sea salt (20% of the plums and no less)
- ⅓ cup vodka or shochu (more than 35% degree) (to clean the ziploc bags and utensils)
- 200 g red perilla (aka shiso herb, 20% of the plums)
- 40 g sea salt (20% of the red perilla leaves)
- Clean plums with running water in a large bowl. Soak them with clean water for 6 hours to remove scum and bitterness of the fruits. Place them onto a clean cotton towel and dry out naturally at room temperature for a few hours. Avoid any direct sunlight.
- Soak kitchen papers with vodka or any high degree of alcohol. Clean the insides of ziploc bags and the utensils with the kitchen papers. It's important that you only use the clean and hygienic bags and utensils. And your hands are washed and clean.
- Ripe and mature plums are soft. Gently remove the stems of the washed plums with a tooth pick. Discard any damaged plums.*
- Use two clean ziploc bags. This prevents the plum vinegar from leaking from the bag. Throw one handful of salt onto the bottom of the ziploc bag. Set aside.
- Add vodka into a little container. Soak a plum one by one and transfer it into the ziploc bags. Place the plums in the bag until full, add the rest of the salt and gently mix them up. Remove the air from the bag as much as possible. Place a board on the bag with a weight on it.** Leave them for one week.
- You will find plum vinegar inside of the ziploc bags. It usually takes one week or less. The plum vinegar should be just over the plums inside of the bag. Remove any excess plum vinegar with a large spoon and transfer it into a container. Keep it in the fridge.
- Remove the leaves of aka shiso herb (red perilla) from the branches. Clean them with running water in a big bowl. I changed the water five times in a bowl. All the dust and soils should be removed. Dry the shiso herb on a strainer for 6 hours at room temperature.
- Transfer the red perilla leaves into a large bowl and knead them well with the half of sea salt. The red leaves become moisturized and start releasing the liquid. This liquid is bitter. Squeeze the leaves tight and discard the liquid. Repeat this with the rest of the salt again.***
- Place the red perilla leaves on a bowl. Soak them with the plum vinegar you kept in the fridge. Loosen them up with a spoon or chopsticks. Add them into the ziploc bags. Remove the air, zip the bags and place the board and the weight on top. Leave the bags for another two weeks.
- Find a solid three sunny days with the weather forecast. Remove the weight and the board. Open the bags. Gently take out the pickled plums and red perilla leaves and drain the plum vinegar on a sieve. Place the plums onto the flat large strainer separately. Squeeze the red perilla leaves by hand and remove water. Place them on a sieve to dry. The left over plum vinegar should be kept in a container at room temperature.
- Leave plums and red perilla leaves in the direct sunlight, from 9 am to 4 pm. Keep them inside in the evening. Turn them over with clean fingers or chopsticks next morning and dry them again. Keep this process for another 2 sunny days.
- After three days of drying, the plums have slightly wrinkled and salt may become apparent on surface. Transfer them into a container and add the leftover plum vinegar. If you add dried red perilla leaves, the colours will be intensified. You can now eat umeboshi, but if you keep them for a further three months, they become less salty and milder.
- That's it! Enjoy!
- Ziploc bags
- Weight – the same amount of weight with plums
- Flat and large strainer to dry plums and red perilla
- Plate in case the plum vinegar leaks