Having recently returned from Japan, I thought it fitting to write about a set of quintessential Japanese foods that packs huge health benefits: umeboshi vinegar (also called ume plum vinegar), umeboshi plums and umeboshi plum paste.
Although labeled as vinegar, umeboshi plum vinegar is actually the liquid left after Japanese nanko plums (they’re called plums in Japan but are technically more like little apricots) are preserved by brining with sea salt and red or purple shiso leaves. The mixture is allowed to ferment in barrels for a year. The sea salt draws the liquid from the plums and the shiso leaves give the brined fruits and liquid their natural pink tint. This is what the sour little fruits look like before they’re brined:
Soaking the harvested fruits to remove bitterness:
The red or purple shiso leaves that provide umeboshi plums and vinegar their pink color:
Umeboshi brining with red shiso leaves and sea salt:
After brining, the fruits look like this and are frequently served as a salty pickle during a Japanese meal:
The salty little brined fruits are an acquired taste, but umeboshi vinegar is mild, somewhat salty and an excellent condiment with many uses.
Umeboshi plums are considered the king of alkaline foods, highly respected in Japan for their remarkable medicinal properties in balancing the body and helping with indigestion. Even sucking on an umeboshi plum pit can settle a queasy stomach. (Minifie, 2013)
Because they are high in citric acid, which has a powerful, paradoxical alkalinizing effect on the body, umeboshi plums are the Far Eastern equivalent of both aspirin and apple, a potent hangover remedy and one of the best preventive medicines available. An umeboshi a day keeps the doctor away.
A 1000 year old Japanese medical text discussed the use of umeboshi to prevent fatigue, purify water, rid the body of toxins and cure specific diseases such as dysentery, typhoid and food poisoning.
During the samurai period in Japan, which lasted through most of the Middle Ages, this fermented plum was the soldier’s most important field ration. It was used to flavor foods such as rice and vegetables. Its high acidity made it an excellent water and food purifier as well as an effective antidote for battle fatigue. (Mitoku, no date)
In China the dried plums are use medicinally to reduce fevers, treat nausea and control coughs. (Weil, 2010)
The Standard American Diet (SAD) is high in refined sugars and red meat, both of which severely acidify the body, producing inflammation – the gateway to many serious ailments. An overly acidic diet is at the core of many symptoms such as fatigue, digestive imbalances, emotional imbalances and anxiety. Adding foods to our daily diet that alkalinize the blood, urine and saliva can help restore balance and health again.
See INFLAMMATION to read more about its adverse affects on our health.
Umeboshi plums, paste and vinegar are such super foods. They have been consumed in Japan, China and Korea for centuries for this medicinal purpose.
Umeboshi foods are created via a lactic fermentation process using only Japanese plums, shiso leaves and sea salt. Shiso leaves have many medicinal health benefits themselves that contribute to the antimicrobial and infection fighting components of umeboshi.
Umeboshi has traditionally been used to treat:
Alcohol poisoning (hang-overs)
General nausea (including pregnancy and motion sickness)
Diarrhea and dysentery
Oxidation of cells
The addition of an umeboshi plum in rice dishes adds a pleasant salty and sour taste and also combats the bacterial growth in rice known as Bacillus cereus. A popular Japanese dish often found in Japanese and Korean markets is called onigiri – sticky rice wrapped in either nori (seaweed) or on its own with an umeboshi plum in the center.
Traditionally, these plums are said to have been used by the samurai to keep up their stamina, stave off fatigue and help heal between battles. They were a staple in their daily diets. In more recent times, they are enjoyed with green tea, as the opposing flavors juxtapose each other nicely. Eating an umeboshi plum before breakfast helps stimulate digestion for the day.
They are also high in iron (important for hemoglobin production, stress reduction and immune function), thiamin (important for healthy nervous system, metabolism and digestion), and riboflavin (helpful for the formation of antibodies, healthy metabolism and cortisol production).
Try eating a few umeboshi plums the morning after a party or after a lengthy flight to combat jet lag, nausea and exhaustion. (Smythe, 2012)