Last week’s post was about kendo (けんどう / 剣道), so this week I need to start with う (u). I decided to write about…
Umeboshi (うめぼし / 梅干)
Umeboshi are pickled plums (although the literal translation is “dried plums”). These Japanese plums are actually more like apricots and, believe me, they really pack a punch! If you eat umeboshi on their own, expect to be pulling a few faces, because they’re very sour. However, mixed in with rice or in an onigiri (rice ball), I personally find them quite refreshing.
You might find that umeboshi are a sort of orangey colour, like in the picture above, but often they are died a darker red colour with shiso (perilla) leaves.
It is commonly believed that umeboshi are very good for your health, and I have even been told by Japanese students that eating them daily can prevent cancer (although I don’t know if any medical research has proven that). The theory is much the same as the Western idea of “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”. The Clearspring website says,
Even today, some traditional Japanese people begin the day with two pickled plums and a cup of tea. British author and Japanese food authority Robbie Swinnerton compares umeboshi’s taste to the culinary equivalent of a cold shower. “The abrupt, searingly tart, tangy, salty taste jolts the eyes open, shakes the stomach awake, sandpapers off any staleness from the taste buds, and gets the day off to an unforgettable start.”
According to the Clearspring article, the strong acidity of the umeboshi can neutralise fatigue and stimulate digestion. Umeboshi are also known as a good hangover cure, although I think they would make me feel worse!
Umeboshi are also used to prevent rice from spoiling, due to their anti-bacterial properties, making them a popular ingredient when making bento boxes (lunch boxes). It’s an added bonus that the red umeboshi on the white rice looks like Japan’s flag. This very basic lunch box of white rice with one umeboshi is called a hinomaru bento (日の丸弁当) – “hinomaru” is the name of the Japanese flag.
In Japan, umeboshi are readily available in all supermarkets, and some people make them themselves. Do you fancy having a go at making them? If so, there is a fantastic step-by-step guide on Just Hungry: Homemade Umeboshi (Japanese salty pickled plums) – now with troubleshooting notes. If you’re in the UK, it might not be that easy to get the ingredients to make umeboshi by yourself, but you can buy ready-made umeboshi from Clearspring, the Japan Centre, Sushi Sushi, and even Amazon! If you have a local Asian store you might find them there, too.
Umeboshi (うめぼし) ends with し (shi), so next week I will be looking for a noun beginning with “shi”. If you have any suggestions, please leave them below! And, don’t forget, no words ending in ん! (^_^)v
(Featured image from Just Hungry)