28 February 2023
Umeshu: Getting To Know Japanese Plum Wine
Fruit wine is a popular alcoholic beverage that has won the hearts of many people. Not to be left out, Japan's own offering - Umeshu - ranks as the second most favored souvenir for foreign tourists after sake. It is easy to see why this plum wine has become so entrenched in Japanese culture with its easy-drinking sweet flavor and numerous wellbeing advantage. We now take a closer look at this remarkable drink.
- My Umeshu Story
- The Differences Between Base Liquors
- How to Drink
- Healthy, Aromatic and Nostalgic Taste
My Umeshu Story
There has always been a single, beautiful, fragrant, delicious, plum tree in my parents' yard. In the springtime, it produces an abundance of pretty flowers. Though the green ume berries are toxic when consumed raw, they become transformed into something truly special once processed and preserved - pickled plums, sirups and aromatic wines come alive with a surprising flavor that lingers on your tongue! As a child, I especially loved the sweet and sour taste of plum juice, made by mixing plum syrup with water or soda water. But it wasn't until becoming an adult that this beverage really found its way into my heart alongside some other alcoholic favorites. Hopefully many others get to sample this amazing flavor! For those curious about how to make homemade wine out of plums, please visit this page for more information.How to make Umeshu (just one cookbook)
Ume plums first arrived in Japan from the Yangtze River basin of China during the Yayoi period (10th century B.C.E. - mid 3rd century). Historical records indicate that Umeboshi, or Japanese pickled plums, were already being consumed during the Heian period (c. 794-1185) thanks to their medicinal benefits as reported in "Ishinpou," an ancient medical book.
Due to their delicate nature, ume plums must be harvested when still green in order to avoid any damage. Unfortunately, these unripe fruits contain cyanoglycoside, a toxin which makes them unpalatable to consume. As a result of this, since the Edo period (c. 1603-1867) processing methods like umeshu and umeboshi have become popular as a way to preserve these fruits.
At that time, it was common to soak ume plums in sake, an old sake that had been stored and aged for at least three years. In the Edo period, there was no distilled liquor with a high alcohol content like today's shochu. Sake, brewed with yeast, was heat-treated to prevent spoilage, but there was still a possibility that sake could go rancid, so old sake, which was resistant to spoilage, was used. However, since sugar was a precious commodity, it is believed that sake was drunk only by a limited number of people rather than by the general populace.
Towards the close of the Edo period, ume cultivation amongst farmers started to become common. As a result, this fruit was transformed into a preserved form and consumed as such. Likewise, umeshu also saw an increase of popularity due to its preservation properties found within the beverage.
In the late Meiji period (1868-1912), the enactment of the Liquor Tax Law prohibited any home brewing, and alcohol became "something to be purchased by paying liquor tax." In reality, however, the law and the situation did not match, and plum wine was also made at home. In 1962, the Liquor Tax Law was amended to allow people to make and enjoy fruit wine at home as long as the alcohol content is 20 degrees or more and the tax has already been paid. Around the same time, sake brewers began to promote the sale of umeshu, making it widely popular as it is today.
The Differences Between Base Liquors
Umeshu is incredibly versatile because its flavors can be easily customized depending on what sort of base liquor is used, which makes it an attractive option for those who would like to express their own tastes. Here we will go over six types of popular bases for this particular beverage: white liquor, shochu, brandy, whiskey, tequila and sake - noting how they differ from each other.
White Liquor (white distilled liquor)
The most popular plum wine base is a type of shochu called white liquor made from molasses. Its taste and odor are neither strong nor overwhelming; instead it offers a refreshing influence. Similarly, vodka and other spirits are also used for plum wine, as they are colorless, clear, and have no peculiar taste.
If you like shochu, you can make plum wine that includes the flavor of shochu itself by using authentic shochu made from barley, rice, or sweet potatoes instead of white liquor. However, because of its unique flavor, some people may feel that it detracts from the flavor of the plums.
Brandy makes a mellower, sweeter and richer plum wine than white liquor. Brandy has a higher alcohol content, about 40°C(104℉), and its sweetness blends well with the ume flavor. It does not need to be an expensive brandy to make delicious umeshu.
Whiskey, like brandy, matures quickly and is ready to drink in about three months. When making plum wine with whiskey, the sweet and sour flavor and freshness of the plum wine combined with the whiskey gives it a deeper, richer flavor and lingering aftertaste. There are many types of whiskey, and the flavor and aroma varies depending on the brand used. If the whiskey has a strong taste, it will lose its original flavor and lose its balance with the plum wine, so it is important to choose the right brand to make the drink delicious.
For those who desire a tart umeshu, tequila is the ideal choice of base. This spirit comes in two varieties - freshly distilled, colorless tequila and aged, golden brown tequila. Colorless works best for achieving an umeshu with just the right tanginess. After soaking for six months to a year, it takes on a mild flavor.
Those who lived during the Edo period were familiar with sake-based Umeshu. It had a special sweetness owing to the sake that imparted a deep and mellow flavor. For maximum enjoyment, it is best enjoyed on the rocks or with soda - any other mixture like juice or tea will tend to diminish its inherent qualities.
How to Drink
The experience of drinking umeshu is greatly enhanced by paying attention to the process. There are several traditional methods for drinking it, though some may choose to combine it with other beverages such as Japanese green tea or even top ice cream. Below are some classic ways to enjoy this delicious beverage.
On the rocks
This is the best way to enjoy the true flavor of plum wine. As the cubes melt, their taste will change, adding a new dimension to your drinking pleasure.
Find the perfect balance between sweet and bubbly with a mixture of plum liqueur and soda water. By mixing these two together in a ratio of 4:6 you can create a delightful, refreshing beverage.
With hot water
As you pour hot water over it, a delicate smell of umeshu wafts up from your cup. Hot umeshu is an ideal way to unwind after a hard day. To make it simply mix 1:1 ratio of plum wine to hot water, or warm it in a microwave with any other proportion desired.
For a delightful summertime refreshment, try mixing umeshu with water. This Japanese plum wine can be diluted 1:1 with cold water and ice for a delicious drink that's perfect on a hot day.
Healthy, Aromatic and Nostalgic Taste
Umeshu is not only tasty, but also has many healthful benefits. The citric acid in ume produces energy in the body, relieves fatigue, and invigorates the gastrointestinal tract, among other health benefits. It also increases appetite, improves swelling, relieves constipation, and beautifies the skin. Because it is sweet and easy to drink, it is recommended as an aperitif or after-dinner drink.
We hope you will enjoy the rich aroma and somewhat relaxing flavor that only this fruit wine can provide.