Ingredient of the Week: Umeboshi, The Little Plum That Packs a Punch

June 5, 2015
by Kathryn Bloxsom for Thrive Market
Ingredient of the Week: Umeboshi, The Little Plum That Packs a Punch

It's Friday—time to go celebrate the end of another work week. But if your TGIF turns into a Saturday morning hangover, try reaching for umeboshi instead of an aspirin.

No, umeboshi isn't a new pill or tonic. If you haven't heard of these little pickled fruits before, it's time to get acquainted. Their name translates to "Japanese salt plums," and they may pucker you up at first, but they're completely crave-worthy and come with some unique health benefits. Their addictive salty-sour flavor comes from the pickling process, which combines the green ume fruit (a relative of the apricot and plum) with purple shiso leaves and plenty of salt.

These zingy pickles have been popular in Japan for hundreds of years. Families traditionally pickled their own umeboshi, bringing their own unique recipe to each batch. Fortunately, these days you don't have to pickle your own ume fruit—they're catching on in the states, and readily available.

That pucker-inducing flavor is a result of the citric acid that naturally develops during fermentation. Its citric acid makes umeboshi a great way to kick start the day: The tangy, tart zing is a simple way to wake you—and your taste buds—on those days when you just can't seem to get going. Citric acid will also help see you through the day by helping fight fatigue.

But there's more to umeboshi than just its sour taste—this plum also has a list of health benefits a mile long. Since the early days of umeboshi, the little pickle has been known for its restorative powers.

For one thing, umeboshi could help you recover from that painful hangover. Although it may not sound appealing the moment you open your eyes, this knockout-punch of a pickle may be just what the doctor ordered. It's a good source of electrolytes, like sodium and potassium, which help fight nausea and dizziness.

Umeboshi has also been used in Japanese culture as an antiseptic and antibiotic. It's a popular treatment for stomach ailments of all kinds, from constipation to diarrhea. Plus, its nausea-fighting abilities make umeboshi useful in dealing with motion and morning sickness. Though there isn't much scientific literature to back up these claims,  it's still thought of as a powerful preventative—think "an umeboshi a day keeps the doctor away."

As a condiment or seasoning, umeboshi makes a great addition to rice, pasta, or veggies—like in this grilled corn with umeboshi butter recipe. A cut up umeboshi, a splash of umeboshi vinegar or a little umeboshi paste gives a powerful, fruity tang to marinades and salad dressings, like this citrus umeboshi vinaigrette.

Photo credit: Paul Delmont

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This article is related to: Fruit, Ingredient of the Week, Ingredient, Umeboshi

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  • Jhonattan Arango

    Also perfect for the macrobiotic-style pressed salad!

  • Laura Brown McKee

    I can't remember the recipe but years ago I used to make a delicious dressing for broccoli etc. using umeboshi plum vinegar and roasted pumpkin seeds I ground up with a mortar and pestle. I'd add a little water to get the right consistency. It was delicious. I bet the citrus umeboshi vinaigrette is delicious too!