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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, December 12, 2001

Off the Shelf
Japanese 'pickled plum' actually an apricot

Advertiser Staff

Koume zuke ("small pickled plum") is a member of a family of salted, dried pickles made from Japanese apricots.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu AdvertiserNT>

The so-called "pickled plum" so ubiquitous atop Japanese rice balls is actually the half-ripe fruit of the Japanese apricot (Prunus or Armeniaca mume). Koume zuke and its larger, softer cousin, umeboshi, belong to the shio-zuke style of pickles, those that are created by salt and pressure. In the traditional method, the small, heart-shaped fruit are harvested in June, washed and layered in crocks with salt, then the lids are weighted down and the "plums" left to pickle as the liquid is forced out. In July or August, the fruit are removed from the liquid and dried in the sun. Aka-jiso (red shiso) leaves are added to the liquid and the plums are returned to the crock. They are ready to eat as the weather turns cold in the late fall or early winter. Today, modern pressure and salting methods and red food coloring are used. The pungent, salty pickles are considered appetite enhancers and are often eaten atop hot rice or kahu (rice gruel) at breakfast, in much the way Americans require a hot cup of coffee as an eye opener.

Sources: "A Taste of Japan," Donald Richie; "At Home with Japanese Cooking," Elizabeth Andoh