Recipe Spotlight

Umeboshi Is the Most Versatile Pickle

Enliven everything from noodles to salad dressings with its salty, acidic, fruity punch.

Published Jan. 7, 2022.

Umeboshi, one of many pickles common in Japanese cuisine, are often called preserved plums—but they are actually made by brining and drying ume, a small stone fruit closely related to the apricot. A bite of umeboshi wakes the palate with a strong kick of salt and acidity but finishes softly with a funky fruitiness, a flavor reminiscent of preserved lemons.

This punchy, versatile pickle can be purchased in a number of different forms. Here are some of our favorite applications for each.

Whole umeboshi: Whole pickles must be pitted before consuming. We recommend finely chopping the pitted pickles and stirring them into miso soup, sprinkling them over raw cucumber, or tossing them over poached chicken

Umeboshi paste: Umeboshi paste allows cooks to skip the pitting and chopping steps, and it also incorporates better than whole pickles into applications where a smoother texture is required. Try whisking it into salad dressing or incorporating it into nigiri. 

Plum vinegar: A byproduct of the umeboshi preserving process, plum vinegar, also known as ume vinegar, is the brine produced when umeboshi is preserved. It has the same salty sourness as umeboshi and a slightly syrupy consistency. It’s used to pickle vegetables, to season steamed or sautéed vegetables, and to preserve cherry blossoms.

New to umeboshi? Try it on rice first:

If you’ve never tried umeboshi, we recommend starting off with this simple, traditional approach to best appreciate these pickles’ punchy flavor. 

  • Place whole umeboshi atop steamed white rice, udon, or somen. 
  • If you’d like, dress up the dish with a sprinkling of bonito flakes, toasted sesame seeds, shredded nori, thinly sliced scallions, and/or fresh shiso.
  • Break the fruit open with chopsticks and gently mix the ingredients as you eat, discarding the fruit’s pit.

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