Who would have thought that we can make Umeboshi pickled plums out of Rhubarb? Whoever thought of making mock Umeboshi from Rhubarb is a genius because it seriously tastes just like real Umeboshi. This is a brilliant idea for those who want to use it in their cooking or just want to experience what it tastes like.
So just what is Umeboshi?
Umeboshi is a Japanese name for pickled plum with salt, also known as salted plum or umeboshi plums. Ume means ume fruits, which are called plums but more close to apricots, and boshi means dried. So it is literally means dried ume fruits. The size and color vary. Some are large, soft, wrinkly and dark red, some are tiny, crunchy, no wrinkles and pinkish red.
What does it Taste Like?
It is traditionally just pickled fruit with around 20% salt. So it is quite salty and tastes also sour from citric acid. However, there are many varieties in taste nowadays as some have added honey and bonito flake. Honey pickled Japanese plums are popular souvenirs among Taiwanese and Chinese tourists because of its salty-sweet taste. My personal favorite is the one with bonito flake added called “Katsuo Ume” with an extra umami kick.
How Japanese use it in Japanese cooking?
You may have seen Umeboshi used for topping or as a filling of Onigiri rice balls or in the middle of plain rice in a Obento box for its antibacterial and preservative effects. Also umeboshi paste is used for salad dressings, pasta sauce, and toppings for chilled tofu.
Where do you buy Umeboshi Plums?
Usually, Asian/Japanese grocers stock them regularly as it is traditional Japanese condiments and Japanese people overseas still eat them often like I do. Also, some health shops stock them for the health benefits of umeboshi. Umeboshi is a good source of polyphenols. You can get Umeboshi Plums with Katsuobushi Bonito Flakes and Red Shiso online such as Amazon.
How is Umeboshi made?
I am from near Minabe which is famous for the best Nanko Ume in Japan. As a young girl, I would help my grandma who had two ume trees in her vegetable patch. Together we would harvest and clean the plums, then start the pickling process. Basically, after harvesting and cleaning the ume plum, they are pickled with 20% of salt with a weight on top for a few days until most of the moisture comes out.
Then it is sun dried which is called “Doyōboshi”. Doyōboshi means that the salted plum then are dried for 3-5 dog days of summer. Yes, this is done on the hottest days. By exposing it to the strong sunlight in summer it suppresses the growth of mildew and condenses the flavor. Then you can eat them straight away but it will not taste mellow at this point. It is then matured in a container for 3 months to 6 months to bring out the more intense flavor.
Alternative to plums: Rhubarb!
If you are unfamiliar with traditional Japanese cooking, making Umeboshi from scratch sounds daunting, especially when you just want to try what it tastes like. I have a great news for you. We can make Umeboshi modoki (mock) with Rhubarb. Yes I know, rhubarb! Seriously.
Rhubarb is an unfamiliar vegetable for Japanese people. I certainly did not know rhubarb existed until I migrated to Australia. I had never seen, cooked, and eaten rhubarb in Japan but it was actually introduced to Japan in the Meiji era in Nagano prefecture.
Why Use Rhubarb to Make Umeboshi
1. Rhubarb is easier to get than Ume plums
Rhubarb is a perennial plant native to Southern Siberia. Its leaves are not edible, only the stalk part is used for making jam and often used to make sweets. So for people who live outside of Japan, you can use rhubarb.
2. Similar texture when it’s cooked
The texture when Rhubarb is cooked is very similar to the texture of soft Umeboshi paste, so it is suitable to make mock umeboshi. The taste is just like the real thing.
3. Can be made in 35 minutes
In comparison to making real Umeboshi, it is super easy to make in a shorter period of time. Unlike making real pickled plums, using rhubarb does not require much care and time.
Three Tips to Make Great Mock Umeboshi
1. Pick the best possible Rhubarb.
Umeboshi is usually reddish in color because it is pickled with red Shiso leaves. There are two types of rhubarb: the red-colored stalk and the green one. In my opinion, the reddish one makes it look more similar to pickled plums as when it is cooked the color becomes a brilliant red. The thinner the stalk, the more red in color the paste will be.
2. Remove the astringent taste
Cut and soak the rhubarb in water to remove the astringent taste, for no longer than 20 minutes. It may lose acidity as well as the astringent taste if it is left in water longer. We want the acidity [process photo 3 and 4].
3. Withdraw moisture out of the rhubarb
No need to add water. After soaking in water and drain the water, sprinkle salt over it. This process will withdraw some water out of the rhubarb [process photo 5 – 8].
How to store
Real umeboshi is stored in a container in a cool cold place. It is said to last for 2-3 years or longer if the umeboshi is made with 20% salt content. This pickled rhubarb has only 10% salt content and does not last like real umeboshi. It will last about 2 weeks in fridge from my experience.
Here is my instruction for Umeboshi Rhubarb and If you like it, please rate it and leave a comment below. Also, don’t forget to follow me on Youtube, Pinterest, Facebook , Twitter and Instagram to keep up to date with all the latest happenings on Chopstick Chronicles. Don’t forget to use the hashtag #ChopstickChronicles so I can see your wonderful creations!
- 100 g red rhubarb *1
- 10 g salt
- Wash and cut the rhubarb to about 0.4 inch (1 cm) wide.
- Soak them in a bowl of water for 20 minutes. *2
- Drain the soaking water and sprinkle salt over the rhubarb.
- Leave it for 20 minutes in order to withdraw some of the water.
- Place them (with the water that comes out) in a small saucepan and cook over low heat for 7 -10 minutes.
- Turn the heat off and transfer it to a Japanese mortar. Mash it in the mortar. *3
- Keep it in a sterilised jar in the fridge. *4
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