Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Reminiscences of Summer in Japan: Umeshu

Although umeshu, a sweet liqueur sometimes called plum wine, is drunk all year round in Japan (the Choya website recommends it mixed with hot water for a delicious-sounding winter drink) I first fell in love with it on a summer visit to Japan. TV adverts were filled with pretty girls pressing the chilly cans of fizzy umeshu against their faces to ward off the summer heat and relaxing with an ice-cold glass of umeshu on ice (or umeshu-rokku) after the heat and humidity of the day was one of my greatest pleasures. When I discovered that I could buy heavy green bottles of Choya umeshu, complete with sour ume bobbing around at the bottom, at my local Chinese supermarket I was very excited.

Umeshu is made by steeping ume, with sugar, in shōchū, a Japanese spirit made from rice, barley or sweet potatoes. Though ume are often called Japanese plums they are, in fact, a different fruit though they belong to the same family. Ume have a higher acidity than English plums making them very sour. The addition of sugar gives umeshu a delicious syrupy-sweet and tangy sour flavour. It is possible to make umeshu at home by maturing washed, unripe ume and rock sugar in shōchū for a few months. I would love to give this a try if I could find somewhere to buy the fruit from.

Last friday was payday for me so I decided to treat myself to a bottle of Choya Extra Years umeshu from Taste the Orient. It has a smoother and richer flavour than regular umeshu and is delicious served straight over ice or with soda.

Photo: Itsumo Japan
Though, technically, this advert is for a different, lightly sparkling kind of Choya I can't resist singing this song to myself every time I pour myself a glass of umeshu. Altogether now ... ♪ Sarari to shita umeshu ♪


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