Meet Umeboshi, the Pickled Fruit That Takes Vegan Dishes From Flat to Fabulous
This salty, pickled Japanese plum adds an incredible umami flavor to any dish—plus, it lasts a long time and is not that hard to find.
If you're looking for a flavor bomb to add to your repertoire, let me introduce you to umeboshi. This flavor powerhouse is made from sun-dried, salted and pickled ume, a Japanese fruit akin to a plum or apricot. It's got a bright pink hue from the addition of red shiso leaves that it picks up during the pickling process.
Related: Check out our Healthy Japanese Recipes for Weeknights here.
Umeboshi first came into my life by way of Natural Gourmet Institute, a plant-based culinary program in New York City (the original Natural Gourmet Institute has now become part of the Institute of Culinary Education). When I was a student there, the chef instructors were obsessed with the ingredient, waxing poetic about its purported benefits—it's widely revered in Japanese culture and used for everything from fighting colds and aiding in digestion to lifting moods and curing hangovers. But the most enticing, non-debatable benefit? The amazing umami flavor, which elevates everything it touches—especially vegan cuisine.
You can find it in its full preserved plum form and as a paste or vinegar. I particularly love using the paste and the vinegar in sauces and dressings to add a briny edge and depth of flavor that can sometimes go missing without animal products. It's traditionally used to season rice, but there's so much more it can do.
Umeboshi is super salty, sour and astringent so you only need a small amount to flavor a dish.
Pictured Recipe: Crunchy Summer Salad with Creamy Vegan Avocado Dressing
5 Ways to Use Umeboshi
My favorite discovery about umeboshi is that, when combined with miso paste, it gives dishes a cheesy flavor. For anyone who's tried to go vegan, you know how hard it is to live life without this flavor. I do a one-to-one ratio of umeboshi paste and white miso paste and add that to pesto in place of Parmesan, to "cheesy" broccoli soup and to tomato sauce for a dairy-free pasta dish. Just remember that you'll want to adjust the salt level in whatever you're cooking, since both umeboshi and miso will add a significant amount of salt.
The brininess of umeboshi vinegar is also a great stand-in for anchovies, thus useful for making vegan or vegetarian Caesar dressing. Mix it in with vegan or regular mayonnaise, garlic, capers and olive oil, or try it with avocado-based dressings as well.
Use umeboshi vinegar to make mouthwatering quick pickles. The vinegar will impart flavor but also lend its vibrant pink color to whatever you're pickling, making for some Insta-worthy garnishes. I love doing a mixture of umeboshi vinegar and orange juice to pickle cabbage and radishes for use in tacos. (Learn: How to Pickle Anything (No Canning Necessary)
Add a few dashes of umeboshi vinegar to sautéed vegetables, stir-fried dishes and curries, as the umeboshi is a nice stand-in for fish sauce.
Experiment with adding umeboshi paste or vinegar to marinades. It's particularly good when mixed with ginger, garlic, soy sauce, and lime. Use it to marinate tofu or tempeh, or any of your favorite grilled meats.