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What Are 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 color 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 deep pink with a wonderful floral fragrance. When the 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 the rainy season is “tsuyu” (梅雨), which means “plum rain”!
Ingredients & Equipment
- Japanese Plums (Ume): Choose plump, round fruits with taut skin and no blemishes or spots. Different varieties may have specific selection criteria, but overall appearance is key.
- Rock Sugar (Koorizato): This pure sugar form enhances the ume flavor better than others. Its large surface area dissolves slowly, matching the juice extraction rate from the ume, ensuring a robust flavor.
- Toothpick or Cocktail Stick: A handy tool for removing the stems from the ume efficiently.
- Glass Jar with Airtight Lid (2 Litre): A crucial container for making ume syrup, ensuring that the mixture remains uncontaminated and can properly infuse over time. I recommend this kind of container. (This is the closest I found to the ones we use in Japan.)
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Visual Walkthrough & Tips
Here are my step-by-step instructions for how to make Ume Syrup at home. For ingredient quantities and simplified instructions, scroll down for the Printable Recipe Card below.
Start by thoroughly washing your hands to ensure cleanliness. Next, wash Japanese plums under warm water to remove any impurities.
Lay out a couple of clean tea towels. Use one to gently dry the plums and the other to spread them out.
While drying, carefully remove the stems with a cocktail stick to avoid bitterness in the syrup.
Once the plums are dry and destemmed, place them in a ziplock bag or a sealable container. Store them in the freezer for at least 24 hours to prepare them for syrup making.
Freezing ume plums is faster and results in better-tasting syrup. When frozen, the water inside expands and turns to ice, destroying the plum’s structure. When defrosted, the plum becomes mushy, and the juices leak out onto the sugar and turn into syrup very quickly.
You can also enjoy your ume syrup anytime this way. Although Japanese people typically make it during the rainy season to enjoy it during the summer, you can make it whenever you like! Keep in mind that this method only works for making ume syrup or ume jam, not for umeshu or umeboshi.
Fill a glass jar with boiling water and let it sit for a few minutes to sterilize.
After a few minutes, carefully pour out the water (use oven gloves, as the jar will be very hot). Place the jar on a clean drying rack to air dry.
If in a hurry, wipe it with a paper towel dampened with some alcohol.
Measure out rock sugar. Place a layer of frozen ume at the bottom of the sterilized jar, then top with a layer of rock sugar.
Continue alternating layers of plums and sugar until the jar is full or all ingredients are used.
The ratio of ume to rock candy is 1:1. In my recipe, I use 500g of plums and 500g of rock candy. This will yield a little somewhere between 500-750ml of syrup depending on how juicy the ume is.
I wouldn’t recommend reducing the sugar as this helps preserve the plums. The rock sugar slowly dissolves around the plums, absorbing the flavor and sinking to the bottom.
Seal the jar tightly and store it in a cool, dark place like a cupboard or basement. Tilt the jar daily to mix the sugar and plums around, ensuring even syrup formation.
The ume syrup will be ready in 7-10 days. Enjoy it diluted in a drink (mix 1 part syrup with 4 parts water/soda), or drizzle it over shaved ice, yogurt, and more.
How to Store
Once the syrup is ready, it’s better to take the ume out. I recommend leaving them in no longer than one month.
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, 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 can be used to make different drinks and desserts!
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. You can increase it if you like it sweeter.
I like to make ume jelly a bit stronger/sweeter than ume juice. So here’s my recommended recipe using gelatin or kanten.
- 150ml Ume syrup
- 350ml water
- 1 tbsp gelatin powder + 3 tbsp water OR 1 stick (4g) kanten powder
Gelatin recipe: sprinkle the gelatin powder into a small bowl of 3 tbsp of warm water. Wait 5 minutes for it to bloom and then microwave it for 20-30 seconds. Mix with 150ml ume syrup and 350ml water and chill in the fridge for 3 hours.
Kanten recipe (vegan friendly): Mix 1 stick of kanten powder with 350ml of water in a saucepan. Bring to boil and let it boil for 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and mix in 150ml ume syrup. Chill for 1 hour.
Here are a few more ideas for using ume syrup:
- On shaved ice
- In iced tea
- With yogurt
- With milk
- For cocktails
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.
Unfortunately, it can be hard to find fresh ume plums if you don’t live in Japan.
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 them 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.
Koorizato (氷砂糖) is one of the purest kinds of sugar, so this helps the flavor of the ume shrine more than any other kind of sugar.
In addition to this, the large surface area means that the sugar dissolves slowly. This is important because it dissolves at a similar rate as the extraction rate of the juices in the ume.
Using sugar with small granules will melt too quickly and result in a syrup with a weaker ume taste.
I hope you enjoy this Ume Syrup recipe! If you try it out, I’d really appreciate it if you could spare a moment to let me know what you thought by giving a review and star rating in the comments below. It’s also helpful to share any adjustments you made to the recipe with our other readers. Thank you!
Other Japanese Drink Recipes
Japanese Ume Plum Syrup
- 2.2 Liter Pickling Jar
- 1 Gallon Pickling Jar
- 500 g Japanese plums (ume) before freezing
- 500 g rock sugar (korizato)
- 1 tooth pick / cocktail stick
- 2 litre glass jar with airtight lid
Preparing the plums
- Wash your hands thoroughly and then wash 500 g Japanese plums with warm water.
- Next, take a few clean tea towels. Use one tea towel to dry the plums and one or two to lay them out.
- While drying the plums, remove the stems with a cocktail stick. (If they’re left in, the syrup can become bitter.)
- Once all of your plums are dry and destemmed, place them in a ziplock bag or sealable container and store them in the freezer for at least 24 hours.
Making the Syrup
- Sterilize the jar by filling it with boiling water and letting it sit for a few minutes.
- After a few minutes, pour the liquid out. (Pick up the jar using oven gloves as the glass will be very hot.)
- Place the jar on a clean drying rack and allow to air dry. (If you're impatient, wipe with a paper towel blotted with some alcohol.)
- Measure out 500 g rock sugar. Place a layer of frozen ume at the bottom of the jar, then top them with a layer of the rock sugar.
- Continue to add layers of plums and sugar until the glass is full or you've used up all the plums and sugar.
- Seal the lid tightly and then store in a cool dark place. (Cupboards or basements are perfect.)
- Make sure to tilt the jar every day to move the sugar and plums around.
- The ume syrup will be ready in 7-10 days.
- Enjoy in a drink (mix 1 part syrup with 4 parts water/soda) or pour over shaved ice, yogurt, etc.
- After 3 weeks, remove the ume. TIP: If your syrup still has lumps of sugar, transfer it to a pan and heat it on the stove on a low heat until completely dissolved. You can then transfer it to a smaller sterilized jar.
- Keep in a cool dark place for up to 3 months, or up to 1 year in the fridge!