Japan for the Uninvited

Japanese culture from a bemused foreign perspective

Umeboshi (Pickled plums)

UmeboshiAlmost all Japanese plums are pickled to make umeboshi. They were introduced from China in the 8th century, and are smaller and more tart than their Western cousins.

Every June, the green, unripe plums are cured in salt, before being packed in shiso (beefsteak plant) and marinated. This gives them a distinctive red colour and sour taste.

Historically considered something of a miracle cure, they have been used for a wide number of medical complaints, from diarreah to headaches to hangovers.

In the Edo period (1600-1868), samurai used the preserved fruit to combat fatigue – the citric acid broke down lactic acid caused by physical strain.

Even as Japan’s diet becomes more Western, umeboshi remains a daily staple food – as a sweet, a filling for onegiri (rice balls), or a colourful garnish for drinks.

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