Tokyo Dining: The Quiet Power of the Japanese Plum

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During the spring season plum blossom festivals, while not as well-known or respected as their ever iconic cherry blossom cousins, are similarly styled events that take place all over Japan. While sakura trees get the majority of the focus, plum blossoms and their accompanying festivals give them a run for their money in terms of atmosphere.

So what gives me the authority to even hold plums (ume) in the same category as sakura? While being admittedly less-pleasing on the eyes compared to cherry blossoms, plum trees do produce amazing fruit that rock tons of health benefits in a wide array of forms.

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Umeboshi

It’s hard to say you’ve been to Japan without having your character tested by your ability to eat umeboshi without pulling some sort of puckered face of shock. For those not in know, umeboshi are the pickled version of Japanese plums and are known for their sour flavor.

And though it is an acquired taste, if you can get past the initial shock you stand to gain many health benefits from these sour rice-ball fillers and often abandoned boxed lunch sides. They contain deceptively high levels of vitamin C.

Out-classing even the famously citric lemons and limes of the world. I’m sure 16th-century pirates would have loved to know this Japanese secret, especially because of how long they can be preserved for.

Consider trying it during your next sporting event, or even at the bar to help nip hangovers in the bud.

Perfect for long boat trips to new lands, or just sitting in the back of your cupboard for years without spoiling. But, even if you aren’t a scurvy risk, vitamin C is good for your immune system whether it’s been weakened by stress or illness. It also helps prevent wrinkles, which feels ironic considering the appearance of these pickled plums.

The pickling process leaves these plums heavily salted. Which means, in addition to having an insane shelf life, when combined with potassium intake and good water drinking habits, it can help keep you hydrated.

This is the same principal behind sports drinks and other products claiming electrolytes as a selling point. Consider trying it during your next sporting event, or even at the bar to help nip hangovers in the bud. The added salt can lead to increased blood pressure though, so be careful to hydrate to best of your ability and go easy if you’re known to have higher levels.

Due to being a preserved product you can find these anywhere any time of year quite easily in most stores, but spring is really when they shine.

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Umeshu

On the topic of hangovers and drinking, plums in Japan are often associated with alcohol too. The plums themselves, as well as flavored snacks, are frequent choices of the late-night izakaya bar crowd, but umeshu is the real attraction for drinkers.

The variety of umeshu, or plum liquor, you can get in Japan is massive. It’s usually easy enough to find small jars or cartons in grocery and convenience stores. However, if you’re up for an adventure, umeshu isn’t very difficult to make, containing mostly just the plums and sugar.

If you have the right friends, or visit the right region, you might be able to find some local home-brewed ume moonshine. Certain distilleries will also do more gourmet-style bottles of umeshu, and there are even bars where the entire theme is varieties of this plum-based alcoholic beverage.

Umeshu, in all its forms, has unique and varied taste profiles worth trying out.

You could spend years on umeshu tours and still find new versions to try. While the carton and bottled versions are certainly more visually appealing than nondescript alchemical jars of liquid with shriveled plums floating in them prepared by an old man down the street, umeshu, in all its forms, has unique and varied taste profiles worth trying out.

The liquor version of plums also contains some of the same benefits to the preserved version, but the added sugar keeps it from being a truly healthy choice. Sorry to the umeshu maniacs who thought they were free to drink with impunity, but it still poses more benefits than many other alcoholic choices, so there’s that.

Feature photo: Picmin / Shutterstock.com

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