Rainy season in Japan coincides with an abundance of Japanese plums (or apricots!) called "ume". Ume are unique in taste. They're too sour to be eaten as they are but make a wonderful, fruity and flavourful ingredient to turn into pickles, syrup, jams and drinks. With just two ingredients you can make this delicious ume syrup!
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What is "ume"?
Ume (梅) is a popular Asian fruit introduced to Japan from China. Although it is commonly known as a plum, it's actually more closely related to the apricot. Ume is known under several names; Japanese plum, Japanese apricot or Chinese plum.
It starts off as a brilliant green colour called "ao ume" (青梅) and eventually turns to a yellow-orange once ripened which is called kanjuku ume (or ripened plum).
The ume blossom tree usually flowers in January or February and marks the start of spring. The flowers are a deep pink with a wonderful floral fragrance. When rainy season arrives in Japan in around June, supermarkets are stocked up with fresh ume and everything you could need to make ume recipes! Actually, in Japanese, the word for rainy season is "tsuyu" (梅雨) which means "plum rain"!
How do I eat Ume?
Japanese ume cannot be eaten raw. Instead, it's most commonly made into umeboshi (梅干し) a pickled salted plum or umeshu (梅酒) a sweet plum liquor.
The green ao ume are best for making umeshu, whereas the ripened yellow ume are best for making umeboshi or ume syrup.
Seeing as making umeshu takes at least 6 months, and umeboshi around 3, I'm going to show you a quicker recipe. Making ume syrup only takes about 1 week in comparison.
Where can I buy ume?
Unfortunately, if you don't live in Japan, it can be hard to find fresh ume plums.
I recommend checking your local Asian supermarket, especially around May-June when they're in season. If you know where to buy them, please comment below so we can add it to the post and help our readers! I've never ordered them myself, but I've seen a few shops on Etsy selling fresh ume with worldwide shipping.
Ingredients needed for Ume Syrup
Although the ingredients can be a little hard to find, fortunately, ume syrup only requires two ingredients.
- Frozen Ume - to flavour the syrup
- Rock candy / Koorizato (氷砂糖) - A type of sugar that comes in large crystals.
The ratio of ume to rock candy is 1:1. In my recipe, I use 500g of plums and 500g rock candy, this will yield a little more than 500ml of syrup. I wouldn't recommend reducing the sugar as this is what helps preserve the plums. The rock candy slowly dissolves around the plums, absorbing the flavour and then sinking to the bottom.
You'll also need, a 2 litre air-tight glass container. I recommend this kind of container. (This is the closest I found to the ones we use in Japan.)
Why use frozen ume?
You might be wondering why I freeze the ume, well there are two main reasons why I highly recommend it!
Note: You should only freeze ume if you're making ume syrup or ume jam, this method doesn't work for umeshu or umeboshi.
Okay, maybe a recipe that takes a week isn't that fast... but if you use fresh ume, it takes 3 weeks for the syrup to develop. By freezing the plums, you knock 2 weeks off the time meaning you can enjoy your syrup sooner.
Why is it faster, you ask? When the plums are frozen, the water inside expands and turns to ice. This destroys the structure so when it's defrosted it becomes mushy. The juices leak out onto the sugar and turns into syrup very quickly. On the note of mushy plums, I must warn you not to defrost them before making your syrup. Allow them to defrost in the jar with the sugar.
When I made ume syrup with fresh plums, one batch failed because mold started to grow on the plums after 2 weeks. The other batch was okay, but it had a slight fermented taste and was a bit fizzy like soda.
When I tried the frozen method, my syrup was clear, smooth and had a refreshing taste. I couldn't believe that this method was quicker and tasted better!
Ume syrup is something Japanese people make during the rainy season to enjoy during the summer, but the great thing about freezing your ume, is there's no rush! If you're busy, you can keep them in the freezer for up to 6 months before you use them.
STEP ONE Cleaning the plums to remove any bacteria. Make sure to wash your hands thoroughly before handling the plums. Wash the ume with warm running water.
STEP TWO Drying the plums and removing the stems. If you leave the stems in, your syrup could become bitter. Drying the plums helps preserve them better, I use a clean towel but you can also use paper towels. Some people also wipe them over with alcohol as well.
STEP THREE Place your washed plums into a ziplock bag and store them in the freezer for 24 hours or until you're ready to use them. (Use within 6 months.) Do not defrost!
STEP FOUR Before you can make ume syrup, you'll need to sterilize the jar. Make sure to use a glass jar so that you can clean it with boiling water and allow it to steam. Plastic will melt and glass is more sturdy. Once it's steamed for a few minutes, empty the water and allow it to air dry. (If you're impatient like me, you can use a paper towel.) Wipe the inside with alcohol to sterilize it.
STEP FIVE Layering the plums and sugar. Line the bottom of the jar with frozen plums, then add a layer of rock sugar over the top. Repeat until the container is full.
STEP FIVE Seal the jar and make sure it's airtight, then store in a cool dark place. Shake/tilt the jar once a day to move the plums around and make sure they're all in contact with the sugar.
The plum syrup should be ready in about 7-10 days.
Once the syrup is ready, it's better to take the ume out, I recommend leaving them in no longer than one month.
TIP: You might find that there are still a few lumps of sugar in the syrup, you can melt them by heating the syrup in a pan on the stove. (Make sure to take the ume out before heating.)
Once the last sugar rocks are dissolved, you can transfer the syrup to a smaller sterilized jar and keep it in a cool dark place for 2-3 months or in the fridge for up to one year!
Ways to use Ume Syrup
Ume syrup is most commonly used to make "ume juice". The syrup is simply mixed with sparkling water and ice and enjoyed in the summer.
The ratio of syrup to liquid is 1 part ume syrup: 4 parts soda/water.
So, 100ml of syrup would need 400ml of water or soda. This becomes 500ml of liquid and is a good amount for 2-3 servings.
Here are a few more ideas for using ume syrup:
- On shaved ice
- In iced tea
- With yogurt
- With milk
- On jelly
If you're lucky enough to have access to Japanese ume plums, I highly recommend this recipe. Ume syrup can be used in a number of drinks and desserts. Not to mention that it's sweet, perfectly tart and loved by adults and children alike!Print