Umeboshi plums, sometimes called sour plums, are more closely related to the apricot than the plum. Round, wrinkled, and sour-tasting, umeboshi are intensely flavorful, so they’re often used to flavor white rice. The fruit is harvested by the end of June when they reach their peak acidity. Umiboshi plums have an umami flavor.
Umeboshi is made by pickling Japanese plums in barrels outdoors with shiso leaves and sea salt. The plums are pressed occasionally with a weight. The pickling process takes around six months, which is when the plums develop enzymes, natural bacteria and organic acids.
100 grams (or about 10 pieces) of umeboshi contains approximately:
- 33 calories
- 1 gram protein
- 0 grams fat
- 3.4 grams dietary fiber
- 10 grams carbohydrate
- 440 milligrams potassium (9 percent DV)
- 0.2 milligrams manganese (9 percent DV)
- 0.02 milligrams thiamin (2 percent DV)
- 7 micrograms vitamin A (1 percent DV)
- 0.01 milligrams riboflavin (1 percent DV)
Umeboshi contains powerful compounds that are beneficial in the prevention and natural treatment of cancer. A 2007 study treated liver cancer cells with an extract from ume fruit and found that it managed to stop the growth of cancer cells.
Another study published in Tumori treated pancreatic cancer cells with an extract from ume fruit and found it successfully stopped cancer growth. The ume fruit extract kills off cancer cells while sparing the normal, healthy cells. Ume fruit extract has also been shown to be beneficial in treating both breast cancer and skin cancer.
Free radicals are highly unstable molecules that cause oxidative damage that can contribute to the development of chronic disease. Antioxidants are substances that neutralize dangerous free radicals to help prevent damage to cells. Umeboshi plums are high in antioxidants and will reduce and stabilize free radicals.
Rich in polyphenols, umeboshi plums offer support for bone health. Polyphenols provide antioxidant protection against the development of conditions such as osteoporosis. A study published in Food Chemistry discovered that the specific polyphenols found in ume fruit had anti-osteoporosis activities. Osteoporosis is a condition that leads to bone loss, causing the bones to become weak and brittle while increasing the risk of breaks and fractures. The polyphenols in ume fruit were able to increase the production of collagen, the protein that forms the structure of bones, while also enhancing the function of osteoblasts, the cells that are responsible for bone synthesis.
Some research has found that ume fruit possesses natural anti-bacterial properties and could help block the growth of harmful bacteria that cause disease and prevent the formation of cavities. A 2011 study found that ume fruit extract was able to inhibit the growth of several strains of bacteria known to contribute to oral diseases, such as gingivitis.
Umeboshi fruit can be beneficial for blood sugar stabilization. A 2013 study found that ume fruit affects a specific receptor responsible for increasing the uptake of glucose in the body. With more glucose able to be transported and used by your cells, blood sugar levels can normalize and remain steady. Umeboshi plums are packed with fiber, which can help slow the absorption of glucose, preventing spikes and crashes in blood sugar levels.
Umeboshi has some potent properties that could help protect the liver. The liver plays a vital role in detoxification, fat metabolism and the production of important proteins used for blood clotting. Liver damage can be caused by a multitude of factors like infection, excessive alcohol consumption and even obesity. A 2012 study in the World Journal of Gastroenterology followed 58 patients with liver disease and found that supplementing with ume fruit extract actually decreased liver damage that affects millions of individuals worldwide with cirrhosis, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and hepatitis.
Because umeboshi plums are a high-fiber food, they can help support digestion and the gastrointestinal tract. This is because the dietary fiber found in umeboshi moves through the body undigested, adding bulk to stool and promoting regularity. The plums have a natural laxative effect. A 2013 animal study found that giving rats ume fruit improved gastric motility, or the movement of food through the digestive tract, and helped treat constipation.
Umeboshi may also help alleviate symptoms caused by gastrointestinal problems. A study in 2015 comprised of 392 participants showed that eating umeboshi daily improved gastric motility and significantly reduced the symptoms of acid reflux.
How to Buy
You can buy umeboshi pickled plums at natural health food stores, local Japanese grocery stores and online. You can find it in its full preserved plum form and as a paste or vinegar.
How to Store
Umeboshi Plums and Umeboshi Paste are shelf-stable because they are thoroughly pickled. They do need protection from drying-out but can be rehydrated. Refrigerated storage is best.
How to Cook
Umeboshi is super salty, sour and astringent so you only need a small amount to flavor a dish
When combined with miso paste, it gives dishes a cheesy flavor. Do a one-to-one ratio of umeboshi paste and white miso paste and add that to pesto in place of Parmesan, to “cheesy” broccoli soup and to tomato sauce for a dairy-free pasta dish. Remember that you’ll want to adjust the salt level in whatever you’re cooking, since both umeboshi and miso will add a significant amount of salt.
The brininess of umeboshi vinegar is also a great stand-in for anchovies – great for making vegan or vegetarian Caesar dressing. Mix it in with vegan or mayonnaise, garlic, capers and olive oil, or try it with avocado-based dressings as well.
Use umeboshi vinegar to make quick pickles. The vinegar will impart flavor but also lend its vibrant pink color to whatever you’re pickling.
Add a few dashes of umeboshi vinegar to sautéed vegetables, stir-fried dishes and curries. The umeboshi is a good stand-in for fish sauce.
Experiment with adding umeboshi paste or vinegar to marinades. It’s particularly good when mixed with ginger, garlic, tamari, and lime.