Meet Ume, the Japanese plum and its variations

Ume [梅] is a Japanese name for Prunus mume, a species of Asian plum from the Rosaceae family. The tree belongs to East Asia and Southwest Asia which are also known as Chinese plum, Japanese plum, or Japanese apricot.

THE plum blossom is quite commonly seen in paintings and poetic quotations. In addition, it has a variety of preparation forms as beverages, condiments for alcohol, sauces, and even for traditional medicine. Consumption of the plum in these ways is most common in Japan, China, South Korea, and Vietnam.

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The tree that produces the fruit originated in southern China, more specifically in the Yangtze River, and then inserted in more places. The flowering of the tree at the end of the winter and early spring is considered a seasonal symbol. It can be found in remote forests, the banks of streams, forested slopes along trails, and mountains. Generally at altitudes that commonly range from 1,700-3,100 meters and in cultivated regions.

The Ume starts blooming in mid-winter, usually around January to the end of February in East Asia and its size can measure 4 to 10 meters, with very fragrant flowers and colors ranging from white, pink and red. The fruit is in early summer (between the months of June and July). various shades of white, pink and red. 

Ume - meet ume, the Japanese plum and its variations
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Ume Curiosities

The Japanese plum has the scientific name prūnus and can be called Ume or Mume. Another alternative name is mei. In Japan , the ornamental cultivars of Prunus mume are classified into types: yabai (wild), hibai (red) and bungo (Bungo Prefecture). The Nankoume variety of yabai has its fruit used to make umeboshi (pickled Japanese plums).

It is common in Japan and China for the Ume tree to be planted in the garden of homes, as according to superstition it means good luck and scares away evil spirits. Ume is also beneficial to health as it has vitamin C, calcium, potassium, dietary fiber, and is low in fat and calories.

Ume is used to make Umeboshi (fermented plum) and an alcoholic drink called Umeshu. There is also a 'belief' that eating Umeboshi for breakfast will ward off bad luck and misfortune.

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For medicinal purposes, especially in China, it is effective for treating bacteria that cause oral diseases such as cavities, and also gastrointestinal problems such as gastritis and gastric ulcers.

Wakayama Prefecture is known in Japan for the quantity and quality of ume and umeboshi. The city of Minabe is the most productive with regard to fruit.

Ume - meet ume, the Japanese plum and its variations
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Umeboshi: the salted prune

Umeboshi is a pickled plum with a salty, sour flavor. There are also sweets made from this variation of the fruit made with honey and served as an accompaniment on rice, rice dumplings, and no stone is removed.

Umeboshi is round and can be smooth or wrinkled like raisins. Ume is harvested as soon as it is ripe and packed in barrels with 20% of salt by weight of the fruit and kept for two weeks. The liquid that comes out is marketed as umezu or ume vinegar. It is also used for a very common Japanese remedy for flu symptoms along with okayu.

Plum - get to know ume, the Japanese plum, and its variations

Umeboshi has been used since the samurai era to combat fatigue after battles due to the salt and citric acid content among other factors. It has the common use to compose culinary dishes for flavor presentation. It can also be served with a drink called shochu and hot water.

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In the United States and Australia, the fruit is eaten at snack time. In Japan eating umeboshi corresponds to the English expression "an apple a day". Children's candy stores sometimes have the option of karikari ume, or crunchy, pre-packaged pickled ume, and dried umeboshi.

Umeshu: The Japanese plum drink

Umeshu is the drink made from Ume and for use usually the still green plum is the best 0pção. Rice sugar and alcohol (shochu) is added. The production season is in June in Japan.

The drink used to be consumed as medicine for the treatment of sore throats. But, now it became a popular alcoholic drink and the Japanese used to make it at home.

Plum - get to know ume, the Japanese plum, and its variations

Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1kg of ume;
  • Half a kilo of sugar;
  • 2 liters of sgochu;za
  • Filtered water;

Way of doing

Soak the ume in filtered water for eight to twelve hours to remove the bitter taste of the fruit. Then discard the water and wash the plums under running water. Place the green ume in a jar with the sugar (preferably in stone) and the shochu.

If you choose granulated sugar, it is recommended to shake the jar once a day. If you prefer you can use kokuto-style brown sugar. The jar should be tightly closed and rest in a dark place for at least six months. But, the ideal holding time is one year.

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The mixture can be made with any alcoholic beverage. However, shochu is the most widely used and recommended. Umeshu can be drunk on the rocks, neat, with water (mizuwari), with green tea (ochawari), with hot water (oyuwari), with soda or tonic.

Have you ever tried or do you feel like getting to know the Japanese plum?