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Ume plums grow on large deciduous trees and are preceded by extremely fragrant deep pink blossoms. The young bright green plums first appear in the early spring and are no bigger than a golf ball. At this stage, they are very hard and incredibly sour, considered virtually inedible, and known to cause intense stomach pains if eaten raw. Later in the season the small fuzzy fruits will ripen to a golden yellow with blushes of peachy-pink. Though they are technically edible when fully mature, they are still quite bitter and dry when compared to common plums or apricots.
Ume plums have a very short growing season, ripening in late spring and lasting through the beginning of summer.
Ume plums are the fruit of the Japanese apricot tree, botanically classified as Prunus mume. They are actually an apricot but always referred to as a plum, and should not be confused with the common plum (P. salicina) or common apricot (P. armeniaca). They are seldom harvested when fully ripe, but rather picked when still young and used to make salty pickled plums called Umeboshi or plum wine.
When raw, Ume plums contain very few vitamins and minerals. However, when pickled they transform into a powerful food. Their high acidity has an alkalinizing effect on the body, neutralizing fatigue, stimulating the digestion, and promoting the elimination of toxins. Some Eastern medicinal philosophies even claim that, an Umeboshi a day is regarded as one of the best preventive medicines available.
Ume plums are never eaten raw, and instead are preserved, made into vinegar or jam, or fermented into a popular Asian wine known as Umeshu. The absolute most common way to use the Ume plum is to pickle it with salt, making it into a condiment known as Umeboshi. Umeboshi can be used as garnish and to impart a sour taste to rice, pasta, and other dishes. Ume plum vinegar can be used to dress salads, accent light dishes, or pickle red radish, turnip, daikon and Myoga. Ume plum products are usually incredibly salty and acidic and should therefore be used in moderation.
Ume plums are synonymous with the celebrated Asian food known as Umeboshi. They are prepared by layering the unripe fruits with salt and the leaves of aromatic herb called Shiso (Perilla frutescens). The pigments in red Shiso tint the plums a light shade of pink and impart an herbal grassy quality. The pickled fruits are preserved indefinitely and may be enjoyed long after their short harvest season in the spring.
The Ume plum is Native to China and Korea where it has been cultivated for 1500 years. The oldest Japanese record of pickling the Ume plums is in a medical text written about one thousand years ago. They were used to treat various illnesses and later provided important sustenance to Japanese samurais during the Middle Ages. The trees have also long been regarded in Japan for their decorative landscaping qualities and in the mid-19th century it was introduced to British ornamental gardens. The Ume plum tree is not widely grown for its fruit outside of its native home, but can be found throughout temperate climates worldwide.
Recipes that include Ume Plums. One is easiest, three is harder.
|A Fish Out Of Water||Ume Jam|
|No Recipes||Pickled Plum and Calamari Salad (Ume ika somen)|
|Just One Cookbook||Ume Shiso Pasta 梅しそパスタ|
|Just Hungry||Homemade Umeboshi|
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