Kitchen Culture

tasty tidbits from the old-fashioned Japanese Kitchen




Like many Japanese food ways with deep history, the origins of uméboshi are thought to be Chinese. The earliest records in Japan date back to the Kofun Period (c. AD 250–552) and refer to dark, shriveled smoked plums called ubai (烏梅 literally “crow plums”) that were ingested for their purported medicinal powers.

It wasn’t until the Nara Period (AD 710 to 794) that records of brine-preserving Prunus mume fruit suggest something close to modern-day uméboshi were consumed. These early uméboshi were most likely served as an accompaniment to tea or saké. Pairing uméboshi with rice – making it a “food” rather than a condiment – dates to the early Edo Period (1603 – 1868). It was during that time, too, that the addition of aka-jiso to the pickling brine became popular.
Street vendors (mono uri) who sold everything from heating oil to soy sauce, to fresh fish and tōfu also hawked pickled plums, an indication that uméboshi had became more widely consumed by the 18th century.

Transforming fresh umé plums to mouth-puckering uméboshi is a process referred to as "plum work" or uméshigoto.



Download a flowchart of this process.