We may be sour, but we know our sweets.

Umeboshi – No, They’re Not Shrunken Heads.

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I’m not sure if we can really qualify this item as “candy”.  But if we can’t…then I’m not sure there’s a classification at all that would fit.

I’m talking about Umeboshi, fools.  This delectable treat, delivered to me straight from Okinawa, vis a vis my renaissance friend Frank, landed in my hands a few weeks ago.  I put off tasting until I was ready to review them.  Now the small bag is completely gone, and I’m in withdrawal.  Yes, my friends, I’m now an Ume-head.  Check it:

umeboshi-bag

Sure, you can’t really see the…”item”  clearly through it, nor can you probably read the text.  So it’s probably time for me to tell you what Umeboshi actually is.

Ume is a plum. Umeboshi is a particular preparation of said plum. In short, the sour plum is pickled, and then dried. So what you’re left with is a dried plum, wrapped around its pit:

umeboshi-open

Intrigued? I know I was. For my money, there’s no better fruit than a ripe Santa Rosa plum. Deliciously sweet, tart, with that amazing last few sucks on the pit, covered with the sour leftovers of the fruit. I was ready to DO this, so I popped one in the ‘ol pie hole.

At first, it’s a very dry experience- a plum pit enshrouded by it’s dried meat. Slowly though, your saliva begins to reconstitute the plum meat. As this happens, the flavor freakin EXPLODES. I’m not talking mild here people, I’m talking about a new kind of flavor and taste experience. You get that salty, savory thing going on from the pickling process, followed closely by the sour plum flavor, with sweet notes. It’s bizarre. It’s a bit confusing. But it’s amazing.

As you continue the dance, the plum meat gets more and more reconstituted, until finally you have more substantial dried fruit meat around the pit. Still, you’re just suckin’ and suckin’ away, enjoying the complex layers of taste going off in your mouth. Soon though (too soon!), as you’re sucking, you’re actually eating the fruit, so it starts to get smaller, and smaller…until you’re just sucking on the plum pit. I keep trying to get more flavor out of the pit, but after a while, you gotta “call time” on a cadaver.  Sad, but true.

I keep trying to rack my mind about something equivalent that we have here in the states, and I’m sure that there is none. The big “a-ha!” idea here is the classic, earthy, salty process (pickling, huge in almost all Asian countries) that (and please, excuse the high-falootin’ foodie term) has a level of “Umami”, which is what the Japanese call the deep, savory flavor that some foods posses. But just as much of a revelation is the concept of dried sour plums. Hello? Why the frak are there no dried plums in America? Clearly, it can be done.  Someone, hook me up with some!

These two extreme flavors put together-something that most people wouldn’t even think of-is the magic here. Simple, easy, and extremely cheap to create (not to mention 100% natural. Just add water, salt, and air), Umeboshi are genius. Definitely not for everyone (my wife’s had them in the past, said it was the most sour thing she’d ever eaten and wouldn’t try another), but they’re for me. For sure. I’ve found a new, healthy, delicious snack.

Or have I? How the HELL am I to find quality Umeboshi? It’s not really like I can read the packages, know what I’m saying? But again, like everything else, that’s what friends are for. Frank pointed me here as a potentially good bag. Conversely, if you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, check out the store “Akabanaa” in Japan Town (22 Peace Plaza San Francisco, CA 94115-3611 (415) 567-8565).  My boy Frankie refilled my supply from there yesterday.  Damn, I love my friends!

I highly recommend that those of you out there who crave something new track these down.  You might be sorry-very sorry.  But at least you’ll have tried, right?  LIVE, damn it, LIVE!



  • http://reignoferror.blogspot.com greebs

    We have dried plums here. They are called prunes.

  • Jonny

    Hey smart guy- prunes are shit. These are not.

  • Matty

    Here’s another smart ass comment:

    These sound just like dried plums.
    Not sure where the candy comes in.
    Maybe we rename the site “dried fruit gurus”
    But yeah – I’ll give em a try.

  • Jonny

    you guys are really helpful. I’ll be sure not review anything that’s not made by Wonka going forward.

  • laurie p.

    you got me to LOL with “maybe we rename the site ‘dried fruit gurus.’”
    they have umeboshi at sunset super, and that place on vicente at 40th.

  • Scotty

    Can’t wait try thes but honestly they kinda look like dried poop.

  • Jonny

    Laurie, don’t encourage them. Thanks for the tip on local places though. I’m starting to gather-after trying 2 different kinds- that there’s a pretty wide range of how these can taste, so sampling a bunch of different kinds is probably the way to go.

  • Scotty

    Ok – tried these and yes they look like poop. But here’s the deal – Jonny is right on but he neglected to mention one thing – you have to have some sack to even try these (they look like poop.) The act of placing one in your mouth takes trust, conviction and most of all courage.

    BUT if you can and you like plums – TRY THESE. They are like nothing I have ever tasted – so crazy intense. Like an entire grove of plums concentrated into a tiny bite sized, poop looking, nugget that is actually as much plum pit as anything.

    Also, you could eat about a dozen plums in the time that it takes to eat one of these. Go try one and thank Jonny later.

  • Alice

    They look like the chinese dried plums. The dried plums are good, and you should try putting them in water for few hours, it flavours the water pretty nicely. But you do need to put in a couple of plums in a cup of water to get the full flavour.

  • Moi

    Random, drive-by comment…my mom is half Japanese and the only Umeboshi she eats is NOT dried. It’s still completely submerged in pickle-y ness. I can’t bring myself to try it as it’s a very unnatural shade of purple and pink.

  • Margaret

    My Japanese mom gave us these as an upset stomach remedy. You can also put it in a mug of hot water and drink it for the same effect.