Come What Ume
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With the sun rising at some ungodly hour and then beating down on me all day it is no wonder that after a hard day of work I feel like a refreshing tipple. And with the summers warmth comes a great fruit; the ume. It is from this very fruit that comes a traditional, fragrant delight: 梅酒 or Umeshū. It just so happens to be the season to throw together this delicious alcoholic beverage, and that is precisely what I did.
Umeshū is a traditional Japanese liqueur. It has a balance of sweetness, acidity, and exotic fragrances that come from its tiny heart; the ume pit. Umeshū is produced by steeping ume in spirits with sugar to extract it’s unique flavors. It’s mild taste and elegant aroma are extracted through a naturally slow aging process.
“In Japan, there is a tradition that states that ume kills three kinds of poisons; poisons in food, water, and blood.”
Ume (scientific name: Prunus mume Sieb. et Zucc) is often mistaken for being a plum (Prunus somestica L), which is indeed of the same group of Rosaceae Purunus, however, they each have very different characteristics. Ume contains 4–5% acidity compared to 1–2% acidity in plums. As ume fruit ripens, citrus acid occupies a higher ratio than other organic acids. The fruit and skin of ume contains polyphenol and the fruit contains amino-acids. In other words, it is good for you!
There were medicinal uses for ume in Japanese and Chinese history. In Japan, there is a tradition that states that ume kills three kinds of poisons; poisons in food, water, and blood. So drink up!
I recently made my first batch of umeshu, and although I now have to wait an agonizing six months until it is drinkable, I’m sure it will be a success! So without further ado, here is how to do it for yourself:
- Head out to your local grocery store and pick up: 1.2kg Ume, 1.2kg of rock sugar (it will likely be on sale next to the ume), 1-2L of your favourite shochu, and a 4L UV glass container (again, it will be next to the ume).
- Pour yourself a drink. Then begin by washing the delicious Gunma ume. Use a toothpick to remove the little brown bit from the center.
- Soak the ume in cold water for 1-2 hours to remove bitterness. If you prefer a tarter or sweeter umeshū adjust accordingly.
- While soaking the ume, sterilize a 4L UV glass container by wiping the inside with shochu. You can pick these containers up almost anywhere that sells ume for about 500yen and in any size you like.
- Once the ume have done their time soaking, layer the rock sugar and ume in the container like you are making some kind of weird lasagne. Gently pour over your shochu until the ume are completely covered. Seal it.
That is it!
Turn the umeshu gently every few days and wait patiently for 6 months to 2 years before drinking.
You can substitute the shochu with any other white spirit and you can also use different fruit if you like. The lady at my local grocer was stoked when I came to her checkout with all the umeshu gear! She squeeled with delight informing the entire town about what I was up to, and then went on to inform me that foreign people often make it with strawberries or lemon.
If you feel like you need some kind of video guidance, there is a Japanese woman and her pooch sidekick which may be of some help. Check out: