Umeshu ・ 梅酒 is the Japanese liqueur par excellence. With a golden color, a syrupy consistency and a sweet taste, it is one of the most popular summer drinks. For years it has been made at home by Japanese families in the first weeks of June as is considered an integral part of the country’s gastronomic tradition.
In the air, you can definitely start feeling the summer atmosphere but, here in Japan, before being able to enjoy the hot summer sun (something not entirely desired by me), we will have to deal with the dark and wet days of rainy season!
Yes, from the beginning of June to the end of the month, every year the whole country is covered by thick clouds that carry strong and long storms.
While for foreigners like me, not yet 100% accustomed to the Japanese climate, are not really happy about this forecast, for the Japanese people is seen as part of the natural cycle of life.
If the city they are experienced as an inconvenience (traffic, slow transport, streets crowded with umbrellas) in the country they are a long-awaited moment of the year.
The benefit of Rainy Season
In fact, their beginning coincides with the sowing of rice, the symbolic food of the country, which will grow throughout the summer and then will be harvest in the fall.
In early June, it will not be difficult for you to find Matsuri (festivities) celebrated to enhance this cereal, such as the “Otaue Festival” in Osaka, where the entire ancient seeding ceremonial is played, accompanied by spectacular dances and ritual songs.
Even for nature lovers, especially flowers, the rainy season is long awaited. You can see the 紫陽 花 (Ajisai) bloom, a beautiful variety of irises that populates the parks and gardens of the houses with their blue and purple colors.
But not only. In Japanese the rainy season is called 梅雨 ・ Tsuyu, which literally means:
梅 = Plums
雨 = Rain
Don’t worry, you will experience plums falling from the sky like, but on the other hand, these days you will be able to see the harvest of one of the most popular fruits of the country: the Plum.
The Japanese Plum
Arrived from China more than 400 years ago, the Japanese plum, called うめ ・ Ume, is still today, one of the most appreciated and used fruits in the gastronomy of the country. Initially used as a medicine for sore throats, it has become a symbolic ingredient of Japan over time.
Forget about our western sweet and plums. The Ume has a green color, small size and is characterized by a sour strong taste, that makes it appreciable only after having undergone some traditional “processing”.
One of these is used to produce one of the best sweet alcohol drink of the country: 梅酒 ・ Umeshu, the Japanese plum liqueur.
Its preparation is part of the Japanese popular tradition and is carried out in the first months of June by mama and grandmothers who wish to make, like every year, a sweet drink to be sipped at the end of summer ( is in fact considered as the women’s drink).
Umeshu is liqueur that derives from the preservation of plums in alcohol ( the whole fruit, with their seed still inside) together with sugar.
Depending on the alcoholic and sugary %, you can get different flavors and prepare it at home is really simple. What you need is good ingredients and a lot of patience.
Like any self-respecting liqueur, even in this case, a period of aging is necessary. Tradition says 1 year, but if you look through various modern cookbooks, for those who just can’t wait, 3 months may be enough.
The rule is always the same: more you get the liquor age, richer will be the flavor.
Choice of Ingredients
Alcohol: your choice will be decisive on the final taste of your Umeshu. In Japan, it is common to use Shochu (a liqor derived from potatoes or rice), but it is also possible to drop your choice on Sake, Awamori, Brandy, Vodka, etc …
Sugar: even sugar is really important., In Japan, it is customary to use “Rock Sugar” (thick sugar crystals), but it is possible to replace them with white sugar, cane sugar or honey. The rule is 1 unit of plums, 1/2 unit of sugar!
- 1 kg of plums
- 800 ml of alcohol with an alcohol content of 35% or more
- 500 grams of rock sugar
- 1 container with a capacity of 3 – 4 liters where you will store your Umeshu
Rinse the jar thoroughly with soap and warm water and dry with a clean cloth. Pour boiling water back into it and stir it. Dry again.
Wash your Ume plums and rub them one by one under running water. Dry them and, with the help of a toothpick, remove the stalk of the plum.
Once ready, make sure they are perfectly clean and gradually insert them in the jar, alternating a 5-6 prunes with a handful of sugar.
Finally pour the liqueur, close the lid and store in a cool place, away from light sources.
Once ready, we just have to wait!
P.S: on my Instagram page I decided to keep the development of Umeshu updated!
If you are curious, here my account-> EveryDayObento
SOMETHING GOOD TO KNOW
- The production of Umeshu within the house was begun when in 1962, the government carried out a strong liquor tax. As the people could no longer afford to buy them in stores, families began to produce them at home.
- Umeshu is gaining more and more popularity abroad becoming one of the most exported products. So, slowly slowly, will be easy to find it also in your favorite Japanese restaurant!
- We all have always heard of cherry blossoms, but have you ever seen Ume’s flowers? They last longer and are wonderful!
- Did you know that Nestlè, to celebrate this liqueur, made KitKats to the taste of Umeshu? They are a limited edition but who knows that these days you won’t find it on some supermarket shelves!
Itadakimasu! イ た だ き ま す
Ele & Yo
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