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Ume for Beginners

By BJH in Culture
Sun Aug 01, 2004 at 09:46:20 PM EST
Tags: Food (all tags)

The ume, or Japanese Apricot, is an interesting little fruit, and it has the added cachet of being Japanese, so obviously there are hordes of ravening fanboys out there just waiting to read a detailed description of this mouth-puckering delicacy.

The ume is a member of the Rosaceae family, along with such plants as the apple and pear, and more surprisingly, the rose, loquat and strawberry. As its scientific name Prunus mume indicates, it is of the genus Prunus, which also contains the almond, (Western) apricot, cherry, peach and plum. While it is supposedly called the Japanese Apricot in English, it is more commonly (and confusingly) referred to as a plum.

The typical ume tree is quite similar in appearance to a cherry or peach tree; the flowers are scented, and bloom in February/March, slightly earlier than the more well-known sakura (Japanese cherry blossom). Ume are generally divided into two distinct categories -- hanaume, or "flower ume", grown for the beauty of its blossom, and miume, or "fruit ume".

A miume tree bears a small, round edible fruit between May and July, similar to a undersized apricot. Indeed, it is quite common for ume to be crossed with anzu (the Japanese equivalent to the Western apricot), producing a slightly larger, softer fruit. The early fruit are of a distinctive green colour (known as aoume, which not surprisingly translates as "green ume"), with later fruit tending towards a yellowish color.

More than 350 distinct varieties of ume are known in Japan; a book from 1901 gave a total of 343, which form the basis for all modern varieties. This diversity is the result of vigorous crossing of natural varieties in the Edo period (1603-1867), a relatively peaceful era in Japanese history where people could pursue such leisures as they pleased. Some of the more common types are "Nankou", "Bungo", and "Koushuu Saishou". The fruit of the first is medium-sized, being 25g to 30g in weight; the second is one of the largest varieties, up to 80g in weight, but unfortunately more fibrous in nature than smaller types; the last is one of the smallest varieties, a mere 3-5g in weight. It is also one of the earliest, being harvestable in late May. However, in recent years domestically cultivated fruit has become considerably more expensive, leading to a growing import industry, with Taiwan as the main supplier.

The edible varieties of fruit are not eaten raw, but rather processed in various ways to make them palatable. The reason for this is not just the hardness of the raw fruit, but also the fact that the seeds of early-harvest, green fruit contain a not insignificant amount of a compound which, in contact with oxygen, breaks down to prussic acid (also known as hydrocyanic acid). If the seed fractures inside the fruit (a not uncommon occurrence), the raw fruit becomes dangerously poisonous, leading to the Japanese proverb "Ume wo kuu to mo sane kuu na, naka ni Tenjin nete gozaru", which translates roughly to "Even if you eat (the meat of) an ume, don't eat the seed; Tenjin sleeps inside", and can be interpreted as "If you eat ume seeds, you're going to end up getting your stomach pumped, sucker."

I could write another entire article on the origin of the Japanese god known as Tenjin (and maybe I will), but I'll forgo that for the moment and just mention that Tenjin was, in his most ancient form, a generic thunder god; this changed after a government minister named Sugawara no Michizane (845-903) was treated badly by his political opponents and came back from death as a total badass, calling down lightning on the descendants of those responsible for ousting him from power. This obvious association with thunder lead to him assuming the role of the older Tenjin. Tenjin's link with ume does not end with the above proverb; ume trees are often found growing within shrines dedicated to his worship.

Other Japanese proverbs revolving around the ume include the following:

  • "Umeboshi to tomodachi wa furui hodo yoi": Pickled ume and friends -- the older, the better. [Means what it says, but forms an interesting contrast to the proverb "Nyoubou to tatami wa atarashii hou ga yoi": "Wives and floor mats -- the newer, the better."]
  • "Ume ni uguisu": A Japanese nightingale in an ume tree. [Indicates two things that go well together.]
  • "Sakura kiru baka, ume kiranu baka": Idiots who trim cherry trees, idiots who don't trim ume trees. [Cherry trees will rot from the stumps of trimmed branches, whereas ume trees will eventually no longer bear blossom if they are not cut back regularly. It could be interpreted as "Know what you're doing or you're a git".]
  • "Sakon no ume": Sakon's ume. [Sakon and Ukon (originating from "Sakonoe/Ukonoe", literally "Left Guards/Right Guards") are two traditional posts charged with protecting the Emperor. In the Imperial Palace in Kyoto, there are two large trees known as "Sakon no sakura" (Sakon's cherry tree) and "Ukon no tachibana" (Ukon's orange tree). Originally, an ume tree grew at the location of the cherry tree; in the reign of Emperor Murakami (946-967, the 62nd emperor of Japan), this tree was destroyed by fire. A servant of the Emperor ordered his daughter to donate her favourite ume tree as a replacement. To express her sorrow at the departure of the tree, she wrote the poem "Choku nareba itomo kashiko shi uguisu no yado wa to towaba ikaga kotaen" (there are several variations on this, so those of you who are ancient Japanese poetry fanatics, please don't beat me up over minor differences), which translates to something like "As the Emperor as ordered me to give you up, I shall do so, but if the nightingale should ask where his roost has gone, how should I reply?" Depending on your level of cultural sensitivity and appreciation for art, this may strike you as a beautiful expression of the depth of her sorrow or unshakeable proof that she was a nutcase. Apparently the Emperor fell into the former category; he returned the tree to her and ordered that a cherry tree be planted in its place. As to what this proverb is actually intended to mean, I have no idea -- I only included it because it let me tell you about this whole episode, so feel free to make up your own interpretations.]
Now, on to what you've all been waiting for -- how many different ways are there of consuming the fruit of the ume? Let's start with a recipe for umeboshi (also known as pickled plums[sic]), the form of ume with which you're most likely to come into contact if you frequent Japanese restaurants.


  1. Semi-ripe ume, 1Kg (be aware that ume don't store well raw, so make sure to start this recipe as soon as possible after purchase)
  2. Salt, 200g (use natural sea salt if possible)
  3. Akajiso/Akashiso, 100g (also known as "red beefsteak leaves" or "red perilla")
Just multiply the amounts of salt and akajiso by however many kilograms of ume you may have at hand.

Let's begin:

  • Prepare a glass or other non-reactive vessel by disinfecting it in boiling water and drying it thoroughly.
  • Wash the ume, being careful not to damage the skin.
  • Remove any stalks with a knife or skewer.
  • Leave the ume in water for one night.
  • Remove them from the water and dry them carefully (any remaining water will cause them to go moldy later on).
  • Place a thin layer of salt in the bottom of the prepared vessel.
  • Place a layer of ume and a layer of salt in the vessel in turn until you run out of ume. Increase the amount of salt in each layer as you proceed. Try and work it so that you have about one third of the salt left at the end.
  • Place the remaining salt on the top of the last layer of ume.
  • Place a flat lid (preferably ceramic) on top of the salt, and a heavy weight on top of the lid (twice the weight of the ume you used is about right). It should look like this (also see link #6 from my sources below for a good view of the process):

      #######  <-Weight
    | ####### |
    | @@@@@@@ |<- Lid
  • Wrap the entire thing up in whatever your local variant of clear plastic kitchen wrap is, and leave it in a cool, well-ventilated place.
  • Shake the vessel once a day.
  • After three to five days, you should see some liquid coming up over the lid. If you do, switch the weight with one about half as heavy. If you don't, then you didn't put in enough salt or your first weight wasn't heavy enough.
  • Once enough liquid has appeared, drain about half of it off. This liquid is white ume vinegar; it'll be used later, so keep it stashed in your refrigerator.
  • Store the vessel again for another week or two.
  • Wash the akajiso leaves and dry them off.
  • Prepare an amount of salt equal to about 20% of the akajiso by weight.
  • Put the leaves in a bowl, sprinkle half the salt over them, and squeeze the leaves in your hands strongly enough for juice to come out. Do this twice, throwing away the liquid from the leaves each time.
  • Pour some of the white ume vinegar over the akajiso leaves and toss them in it. It should change colour to a bright scarlet.
  • Pour the akajiso leaves and (now red) ume vinegar over the ume and gently shake the vessel, so as to spread the colour evenly across all the ume.
  • Place the lid back on the ume and put a weight about half as heavy as the ume on top of it.
  • Store the vessel again. If any ume or akajiso appear above the liquid in the vessel, pour more white ume vinegar in until it covers everything.
  • If you should find any mold on the top, remove it gently and add more white ume vinegar or some shouchuu (potato liquor; pretty much any unflavoured white liquor should do in a pinch).
  • Leave it for another week or two. I hope you've chosen a sunny time of year to do this, by the way, because now we get to the fiddly part, and you're going to need four fine days in a row.
  • On the morning of the first day, place the ume on flat bamboo baskets (if you can't get them, anything that passes through liquids should be OK, such as shallow sieves) and leave them in the sun. Cover the vessel containing the liquid from the ume with plastic wrap and place it in the sun, as well (obviously this won't work very well if your vessel isn't transparent; if it isn't, don't bother with this step). Turn the ume over once during the day. At dusk, return the ume to the vessel containing the liquid and store it again.
  • On the second day, do the same thing with the ume as you did on the first day, but this time leave them out overnight. Transfer the liquid to a suitable container and put it in your refrigerator.
  • On the third day, do the same thing with the ume as you did on the second day. Again, leave them out overnight.
  • On the fourth day, get up before the sun rises and put the ume into a disinfected jar for storage. Take the akajiso out of the liquid, squeeze it and put it in between and on top of the ume in the jar. You can add some of the liquid at this point, or not; it's up to you.
  • Place the tightly lidded jar in a cool, dark place.
When you feel like eating a pickled plum, open up the jar, take however many you want out, re-lid the jar and store it again. These things will last just about forever as long as you avoid mold, so don't bother hurrying to finish them off.

Phew. If you actually managed to get through that entire rigmarole, you're a more determined person that I am; I usually just buy my umeboshi ready-made (they ship overseas as well).

Anyway, for our next trick let's look at umeshu -- in other words, ume liquor, something that I'm sure will appeal to the tipplers among us.


  1. Aoume, 1Kg (choose ume with unmarked skins)
  2. Rock sugar, 0.5-1Kg (the lower the sugar content, the longer your umeshu will take to be drinkable)
  3. White liquor, 1.8l ("white liquor" is the Japanese term for clear, unflavoured ethyl alcohol intended for human consumption, but pretty much anything with a high alcohol content will do -- brandy or whisky is fine)
Again, just multiply the amounts of the other ingredients by however many kilograms of ume you may be using.

Right, here we go:

  • Prepare a glass or other non-reactive vessel by disinfecting it in boiling water and drying it thoroughly.
  • Wash the ume and carefully wipe off any water (again, any remaining water will cause them to go moldy later on).
  • Remove any stalks with a knife or skewer.
  • Pierce the skins of each ume with a fork or skewer in several places.
  • Place a layer of ume and a layer of sugar in the vessel in turn until you run out of ume. It should look something like this at the end.
  • Pour in the white liquor and seal the vessel.
  • Store it in a cool, dark place for at least three months, occasionally shaking it.
You can start drinking it after the three months are up, but there's no problem with leaving it for a year or more. You should, however, remove the ume after six months or so, or you may find your liquor to resemble jam more than anything else (in fact, if you add in some sugar, the ume can be turned into a quite acceptable jam for use on your morning toast).

That's pretty much it -- I hoped you found something you didn't know about the humble Japanese ume in this article. Editorial comments appreciated, of course.


  1. The main source for this article. Some people might accuse me of blatantly ripping it off; if so, I suggest that those people consider the effort involved in translating the relevant bits into a form understandable to someone who wouldn't know an ume from Adam's balls.
  2. A list of ume-related Japanese expressions.
  3. ...And another one.
  4. A recipe for umeshu, with pictures.
  5. A page showing the steps involved in making umeboshi, with pictures.
  6. ...And another one.


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Did you know that 'Ume' is also a woman's name in Japanese?
o Yes. 25%
o No. 44%
o WTF does that have to do with the article!? 29%

Votes: 54
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o flowers
o umeboshi
o Akajiso/Ak ashiso
o Remove any stalks with a knife or skewer.
o link #6
o buy my umeboshi ready-made
o ship overseas
o Rock sugar
o this
o The main source for this article.
o A list of ume-related Japanese expressions.
o ...And another one.
o A recipe for umeshu, with pictures.
o A page showing the steps involved in making umeboshi, with pictures.
o ...And another one. [2]
o Also by BJH

Display: Sort:
Ume for Beginners | 67 comments (33 topical, 34 editorial, 2 hidden)
Hi. (1.61 / 13) (#2)
by Hide Teh Hamster on Fri Jul 30, 2004 at 06:36:41 PM EST

Where do I buy ume? It's not as if I can go out back to the rear of the house and pluck one off my fucking ume tree, now can I?

This revitalised kuro5hin thing, it reminds me very much of the new German Weimar Republic. Please don't let the dark cloud of National Socialism descend upon it again.
Well... (2.50 / 4) (#3)
by BJH on Fri Jul 30, 2004 at 06:43:04 PM EST

I suppose you could, um, I dunno... maybe google for somewhere that sells them?
Roses are red, violets are blue.
I'm schizophrenic, and so am I.
-- Oscar Levant

[ Parent ]
Illegitimate. (1.55 / 9) (#14)
by Hide Teh Hamster on Fri Jul 30, 2004 at 10:28:01 PM EST

That's not a legitimate reply, Blowjob Aitch. This is not the kind of petty sniping that Kuro5hin readers want to read. So cut it out, will you?

This revitalised kuro5hin thing, it reminds me very much of the new German Weimar Republic. Please don't let the dark cloud of National Socialism descend upon it again.
[ Parent ]
OK... (none / 1) (#15)
by BJH on Fri Jul 30, 2004 at 10:32:01 PM EST

So what kind of petty sniping do K5 readers want to read?
Roses are red, violets are blue.
I'm schizophrenic, and so am I.
-- Oscar Levant

[ Parent ]
The type... (3.00 / 12) (#19)
by godix on Sat Jul 31, 2004 at 01:48:35 AM EST

... that ends up with someone being called 'Blowjob Aitch'.

"Kerry's brother, Cameron, remembers their father's putting down John's "sophomoric" ideas while discussing foreign affairs around the dinner table." - New
[ Parent ]
what the hell (none / 0) (#57)
by Ashur on Mon Aug 02, 2004 at 03:42:53 AM EST

does aitch mean anyway? it looks like bitch, but it clearly isn't. Damn kids and your stuff.

[ Parent ]
The hell (none / 0) (#60)
by Djehuti on Mon Aug 02, 2004 at 08:34:36 AM EST

It's the aitchth letter of the alphabet.

[ Parent ]
And *why* would I bother to do that? [n/t] (none / 0) (#29)
by RandomLiegh on Sat Jul 31, 2004 at 06:27:27 PM EST

Thought of the week: There is no thought this week.
[ Parent ]
Sorry... (none / 1) (#34)
by BJH on Sat Jul 31, 2004 at 09:11:45 PM EST

I'm not qualified to answer those darn filohsofikal questions.

Roses are red, violets are blue.
I'm schizophrenic, and so am I.
-- Oscar Levant

[ Parent ]
Washingto State: (1.06 / 15) (#35)
by momocrome on Sat Jul 31, 2004 at 11:33:57 PM EST

Washington State has a NEW PRIMARY SYSTEM that changes the way you vote for the first time in 70 years. The new system requires you to SELECT A PARTY ballot to vote for partisan candidates. For the first time, you may only vote for the candidates of one political party in the primary. Your privacy will be protected; no record of your political party selection is made. Your right to vote for candidates for non-partisan offices is not affected by this new law. THERE IS NO CHANGE IN VOTING FOR THE GENERAL ELECTION.

"Give a wide berth to all that foam and spray." - - Lucian, The Way to Write History
[ Parent ]
correction: (1.00 / 3) (#55)
by momocrome on Mon Aug 02, 2004 at 01:23:33 AM EST

You really can get ume from washington state. I just needed some filler text in my comment, and tried to keep it WA related. sorry for the screw up. please don't hit me.

"Give a wide berth to all that foam and spray." - - Lucian, The Way to Write History
[ Parent ]
+1111111111111!!!11!!!1 ror (1.00 / 9) (#40)
by noogie on Sun Aug 01, 2004 at 05:32:48 AM EST

[ Parent ]
¿Eh? (none / 3) (#47)
by Hide Teh Hamster on Sun Aug 01, 2004 at 02:39:06 PM EST

¿Cuál es éste? ¿Qué significa?

This revitalised kuro5hin thing, it reminds me very much of the new German Weimar Republic. Please don't let the dark cloud of National Socialism descend upon it again.
[ Parent ]
From a fucking ume shop. (2.50 / 2) (#59)
by it certainly is on Mon Aug 02, 2004 at 07:57:12 AM EST

There are these special shops called Asian Supermarkets. Don't tell me you don't have one; of course you have one, the Asians are everywhere.

kur0shin.org -- it certainly is

Godwin's law [...] is impossible to violate except with an infinitely long thread that doesn't mention nazis.
[ Parent ]

It comes in a jar. (1.25 / 4) (#62)
by Mr.Surly on Mon Aug 02, 2004 at 12:27:05 PM EST

At the fucking market.  Moron.

[ Parent ]
No ed comments.. (none / 1) (#5)
by tonyenkiducx on Fri Jul 30, 2004 at 07:40:27 PM EST

..because my English is terrible. But the article is interesting, well thought out, structured and full of sources of information. Good first post!!

I see a planet where love is foremost, where war is none existant. A planet of peace, and a planet of understanding. I see a planet called
Excellent (3.00 / 8) (#26)
by JanneM on Sat Jul 31, 2004 at 01:40:07 PM EST

I've wanted to know how to make ume for some time - thank you.

What you really missed towards the end is how to actually use umeboshi. My three favourites:

  1. rice balls (onigiri) with Umeboshi. Very simple, very easy - just search the net. Basically, take a fistful of hot rice, make a dent in the middle, add some umeboshi (or any of dozens of other fillings), close up, and let cool. Delicious.
  2. chicken skewers with chopped umeboshi. Basically make short skewers of chicken meat (around the size of thai skewers). take some umeboshi (maybe one per two skewers), remove the seed, and chop them up. Grill the skewers. Put the pulp onto the finished skewers. Eat.
  3. Dumplings with umeboshi. A popular kind of dumpling in Japan is a basically Chinese-type dumpling, but rather than steamed, it is fried briefly in a pan and then sautéed for a few minutes. It makes the dumpling a bit more robust and flavourful. I really like adding a dollop of chopped-up umeboshi, rather than the ubiquitous soy sauce, to the dumplings, especially when served as a side dish to cold udon.

Trust the Computer. The Computer is your friend.
-1, A Pirate Walks into a bar with... (1.00 / 15) (#28)
by thelizman on Sat Jul 31, 2004 at 06:26:32 PM EST

...shit, sorry, wrong submission.

"Our language is sufficiently clumsy enough to allow us to believe foolish things." - George Orwell
Ume & XAML? (1.00 / 21) (#38)
by veldmon on Sun Aug 01, 2004 at 04:52:00 AM EST

According to OneStat.com, a company that collects and publishes Web statistics, Microsoft's Internet Explorer web browser has "a total global usage share of 95%". The significance of this is well-known to most readers. It essentially means that Internet Explorer's method of rendering HTML is the primary guide authors of web pages consult to ensure their site displays as they intend it to. This reality is in opposition to the espoused views of the World Wide Web Consortium, a Web standards body that advocates an open, vendor-neutral Web. Many consider the W3C to be the only legitimate authority that can approve of Web technologies should or should not be implemented.

XAML (rhymes with camel) is an interpreted language expressed in XML syntax that will facilitate the development of advanced graphical user interface elements within a browser window.

Have you ever lost a lengthy submission because you typed it into the text box, but there was an error after you clicked the button to submit. Well, through XAML, Microsoft has an interesting solution to that problem. Instead of input being a one-time one-way transaction, it can be done multiplicitiplexily.

I'm a gatekeeper. I am selfish. Not a helpful combination.

+1, although (none / 1) (#48)
by buck on Sun Aug 01, 2004 at 03:20:25 PM EST

at first when the article mentioned "an interesting little fruit", I thought it was referring to Christopher Lowell. I'm sorry, but those kind of people just rub me the wrong way. Of course, they could just be doing it wrong.
“You, on the other hand, just spew forth your mental phlegmwads all over the place and don't have the goddamned courtesy to throw us a tissue afterwards.” -- kitten
Just remember. (none / 2) (#51)
by TheOnlyCoolTim on Sun Aug 01, 2004 at 10:19:16 PM EST

Making idols of the Japanese makes you a loser. So be careful.

"We are trapped in the belly of this horrible machine, and the machine is bleeding to death."

Whilst American Pie<sup>TM</sup> (none / 0) (#58)
by tetsuwan on Mon Aug 02, 2004 at 07:16:47 AM EST

makes you a winner!

Njal's Saga: Just like Romeo & Juliet without the romance
[ Parent ]

next up: anko (none / 1) (#52)
by SocratesGhost on Sun Aug 01, 2004 at 11:10:39 PM EST

Great and informative article. If I saw this soon enough, I'd have voted it up.

If you already knew most of this, I'd love to read an article about other common japanese foods including daikon, anko, and my favorite cookie: koala no machi (ichigo). In fact, a great article might be to study japan through its foods as you have in this article. The quotes you provide are both very insightful and appropriate; an entire article dedicated to the japanese relationship with food would be very interesting to me.

I had never experienced ume before living in Japan. About the only thing I could say when I first tried it was "ume ga umai"; it was about all that I could stammer out in my poor grasp of the language.

I drank what?

Thanks. (none / 1) (#54)
by BJH on Mon Aug 02, 2004 at 12:17:05 AM EST

I don't know if I could do a whole article on daikon, but if I was inspired, I might be able to do anko.
Although personally, one on Japanese desserts in general might be better - manjuu, mochi (sakura mochi, kusamochi, ohagi... mmmm), kuzukiri, anmitsu, annin doufu (although that's really Chinese), youkan.... plenty of things to look at.

Roses are red, violets are blue.
I'm schizophrenic, and so am I.
-- Oscar Levant

[ Parent ]
mmm... mochi... (n/t) (none / 0) (#64)
by SocratesGhost on Tue Aug 03, 2004 at 02:39:21 PM EST

I drank what?

[ Parent ]
what's a "Kelvin-gram"? (none / 0) (#56)
by Ubiq on Mon Aug 02, 2004 at 03:04:31 AM EST

SI units are case sensitive, ergo: kg, not Kg

Herro. (none / 1) (#61)
by knowugotadollar on Mon Aug 02, 2004 at 11:40:00 AM EST

Greetings, I really enjoyed your discussion of the Ume. I checked Wikipedia and found the article there to be lacking the depth and craft of your article. I suggest you enrich them by making amendments to the wiki-entry, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ume. Cheers, .se.
redefining life
nicely done (none / 0) (#63)
by dtothek on Mon Aug 02, 2004 at 10:15:23 PM EST


i always wondered what the fuck my dad (he's japanese) was eating.

Where (else) to get Ume (none / 0) (#65)
by BorgCopyeditor on Fri Aug 06, 2004 at 12:47:30 PM EST

When I saw this story's title, I was very excited, because I thought it was referring to this Ume. Now my experience of both the fruit and the band have been enhanced. [Disclaimer: I am not associated with the band in any way, other than being a fan.]

Umeshu (none / 0) (#66)
by necKro23 on Fri Aug 06, 2004 at 05:50:19 PM EST

This article is rather timely, since my father recently returned from Japan with a bottle of umeshu for me ("Choya Extra Years" -- apparently aged for 12 years). I'd never heard of it before, but it was quite tasty. I discovered that mixing it half-and-half with Sprite made for a very sweet, refreshing cocktail. And you can take the fruit out and eat it! The bottle recommended mixing it with champagne, but sadly I had none of that available...

Umeboshi Products (none / 0) (#67)
by garymill on Sat Dec 04, 2004 at 09:52:33 AM EST

We sell many umeboshi related products. http://store.cybermacro.com/natural_foods_Umeboshi-Plums-Paste.php Both Umeboshi Plums and Paste, and also medicinal concentrates made from ume plums. What is unqiue about our products are that they are produced in the same manner as they have been for centuries, and are organic in most cases. Gary

Ume for Beginners | 67 comments (33 topical, 34 editorial, 2 hidden)
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