Nov 2010 | Vol.13 MUSO NEWS
Written by Toru Takasaka
Discovery of Umeboshi
August 2010, noted as a month with record heat, I visited an Ume farm called “Yamato Magokorokai”. This farm located in Gojo city within the Nara prefecture cultivates Ume and Shiso (red perilla). These are certified by JAS (Japanese Agricultural Standard), EU (for Europe), and NOP (for U.S.A), are cultivated in the farm. The cultivation of Ume and Shiso started in 1970. Organic cultivation began in 1987. Today there are 14 farms managed by Mr. Tsuruta and Mr. Kumashiro, the owners of Yamato Magokorokai. With the increased demand, in the near future, they are planning to expand with new farms for planting Ume and Shiso. To be honest, I didn’t like umeboshi – as was too sour for me. Although I knew umeboshi is good for my health, I always stayed away from it. During this trip, I changed my mind and felt like eating Umeboshi after visiting the Ume farm actually and knowing their story. I’d like to share what I learned from the Ume farmer.

What’s Umeboshi?
Umeboshi are pickled ume fruits. They are known as a traditional and natural preservative which has been valued & appreciated by Japanese people for generations. Ume is harvested from June through July. After the harvest, they are pickled in salt for 1 month and sun dried for 3 or 4 days. The sun dried Umeboshi are stored in kegs for about 1 year in order to balance the taste. Finally, they are pickled with shiso leaves and ume vinegar for coloring at least 2 weeks.  

Power of Ume

Citric acid

After we do exercise or sports, lactic acid accumulates in our bodies. It’s said it will cause sickness or stiffness in muscle because of the accumulation of lactic acid. Citric acid included in Umeboshi has an effect that will decompose lactic acid. Umeboshi is very helpful for the decomposition and recovery from tired, sore muscles since a lot of citric acid is included in Umeboshi.

Appetite improvement
The acidity included in Umeboshi assists in digestion. The acidity stimulates the digestive system and helps to increase digestive fluid and saliva production. This process improves appetites.

Heat Attack Protection
It is said staying outside for a long time in the hot summer sun, along with lack of water and salt in our bodies can cause a heat attack. Especially, this summer, it happened often since it was too hot, and people sweated so much. After getting sweaty, it is no meaning of supplement to drink only water. Not only water but also the salt needs to be consumed - since water and salt leave the body when heavy sweating occurs. Umeboshi is a unique food to consume salt quickly since about 20 % of salt is included in Umeboshi. Also, the salt has a good effect which helps keep the body in balance. I learned a long time ago, soldiers in Japan used to bring umeboshi as a ‘health’ preservative food. Clearly, umeboshi has a lot of merit. However, in contrast, there are difficulties since the ume and shiso are grown under the organic control.

Sun-dried ume
Washing ume

The difficulty of cultivating the Organic Ume and Shiso

Limited substances
They have been cultivating Organic Umeboshi and Shiso which are not only certified by JAS, but also EU and NOP. The substances which they can use are limited since they are grown under the organic control - not conventionally. They said "it’s the most troublesome for us to weed and contol pests". They pull out the weeds by tractor if they can, but it is also taken place by hand if they cannot use a tractor. The pest control is also taken place by hand work. They added "it takes much time to pick the insects between the rind and shaft of the Ume tree".

Extreme weather has continued this year. In April, as it got warmer, there was frost in Japan. The farm which is close to the river was seriously damaged by the frost. Unfortunately, it resulted in no harvest in the farm. At that time, not only Ume farmers but also Tea farmers in Japan suffered from the frost seriously.

Extreme Heat
In contrast to the frost in April, in this summer, it has been extreme heat in whole of Japan, and it was really a hard situation for farmers. In fact, they told us they stopped working in midday since there was the possibility they may suffer from heat exhaustion. The heat made them decrease efficiency of their work, but they had to do so because of the extreme heat. Despite the circumstances, they understood and experienced the effectiveness of Umeboshi firsthand. They said to us “Umeboshi is convenient food in order to take supplemental salt when we get sweaty so much and are dried out”. Once again, I truly realized Umeboshi is a key for good health.

Mr. Tsuruta of Yamato Magokorokai told us thunderstorms are good for crops. When thunderstorm flash, nitrogen expands in the air and it supports crops to grow up. The nitrogen is essential for the cultivation and it makes plants bigger. He added “we always prayed for thunderstorms.

Organic Shiso
In addition to Organic Ume, they have also been cultivating Organic Shiso. Shiso is essential for making Umeboshi. Shiso is planted during the end of May and harvested from July to October. Under the organic control, the soil for cultivating Shiso needs to be rotated in winter time. The “crop rotation” means that different kinds of the crops are planted in the same farms periodically. That makes the nutrition of soil become well balanced, and results in the improvement for the amount of harvest and quality. They told us they started to plant hairy vetch because it gives nitrogen to the soil and it is used as green manure finally. The “green manure” is a kind of fertilizer. The crops, such as hairy vetch, are mixed into the soil without harvesting, and then the soil with the crops is used as the fertilizer. The organic Shiso in the fertile soil is an essential item to make Umeboshi of Yamato Magokorokai which accumulating the nutrition during winter.

In general, it needs the manpower and takes much time and money to grow these crops. However, it is more tough and hard to grow “organic” crops since the additional management and effort is needed. Additionally, this year, despite harmful effects, such as frost and extreme heat, they have been doing their very best to grow organic Ume and Shiso. I was really impressed their attitude for the production. Through this visit, I learned Umeboshi has a good effect, such as recovery from tiredness, appetite improvement, and protection for heat attack. Previously I avoided Umeboshi since I felt it was too sour. Now, I changed my mind and I feel like eating Umeboshi by visiting Ume farm, eating it, and knowing the story of owners. Then, I started eating Umeboshi for my health. My way of thinking has been completely different from the past.

Organic ume plum trees (right-hand side)
Conventional ume plum trees (left-hand side)
Organic Shiso field

Eating is believing. Why don’t you try some Organic Umeboshi with special care?

Written by Miyuki Hosokawa
Recipes using Umeboshi

“Ume Sho Bancha”- a Macrobiotic Home Remedy
Warm up with homemade “Ume Sho Bancha” to prevent cold or flu in this cold season!

1. Mash a half or whole traditional Japanese umeboshi plum in a cup and mix well with 1 tsp (5ml) of naturally-brewed, organic Japanese shoyu.
  2. Pour boiling Kukicha or Hojicha into the cup and add a few drops of ginger juice. Serve hot.

In Japan, ready-made Ume sho paste is popular:
JAS Organic Umesho paste in jar
Ingredients: Shoyu, Umeboshi
Put a teaspoon of the paste in a cup and pour boiling Kukicha or Hojicha. If preferred, add a few drops of ginger juice.
JAS Organic Umesho paste in sachets
Ingredients: Shoyu, Umeboshi, Tea, Ginger
Just adding a cup of hot water, Umesho Bancha is ready anywhere, anytime. Many Muso staffs carry this when traveling abroad!
Although packed in Japanese domestic packages, these items are also available for exporting. If you’re interested, please contact Muso’s sales staffs for further information.

"Ume Kyu" – Cucumber flavored with Umeboshi paste
Here’s a quick cucumber pickle delight that is popular as an appetizer in Japanese Izakaya bars.

2 pcs of Umeboshi (or 1 table spoon of Ume paste), 1 cucumber, 2 teaspoon (10ml) of maple syrup.

1. Cut cucumber into bite sizes.
2. First, seed Umeboshi and then mash them up. Add maple syrup to the paste and mix well.
3. Put cucumber and the paste in a plastic bag and rub with your fingers over the bag until well combined.
4. Lightly tap the cucumber with Surikogi over the bag so that cucumber can absorb the Ume flavors. Leave for 10 - 15 minutes before serving.