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Umeboshi Paste: From Curiosity to Culinary Muse

Posted June 30, 2016

Umami, the “fifth” taste (together with sweet, sour, bitter and salty) is typically referred to as ‘savory.’ But, it might as well be known as a culinary muse, enhancing the foods it is combined with, making their flavors richer and more intense. If umami were a religion, umeboshi paste (puree of pickled Japanese ume plums) would be its high priest(ess).

Beyond culinary applications, Natural Gourmet Institute’s Chef’s Training Program teaches the medicinal value of this versatile ingredient. Highly alkaline, antibacterial and effective in clearing lactic acid, umeboshi paste is known to support both digestion and immunity. However, we students covet this red paste because it improves our cooking. It’s that signature ingredient we learned to reach for when a dish needs more interest, more impact.

Although, it wasn’t love at first sour-salty bite. There is nothing subtle about umemboshi paste. At first taste, it seems nearly inedible and will make your mouth pucker in previously-unknown ways. But, learn how to mix it into your dishes and it’s as if you’ve found the keys to the umami kingdom. Here, instructors and students from Chef’s Training Program class #255 share how they use this umami bomb.

  • Alternative to Salt and Vinegar: In general, use umeboshi paste wherever you would normally use salt and/or vinegar, starting with a small amount and adding more gradually. Try using it in broths, soups and sauces. It may also be mixed into cooked grains and vegetables.
  • Dressings: Go as simple as whisking umeboshi into olive oil for a simple salad dressing. Or, dress it up a little bit by adding chickpea miso, lemon juice, and a touch of tahini.
  • Beans: Mix it into cooked beans, in lieu of salt.
  • Vegan ‘Cheese’ Flavor: Use it in conjunction with miso (1:2 ratio) to make a “cheesy” vegan sauce. Blend the combination with cashews, butternut squash and roasted eggplant, or use it in place of Parmesan when making vegan pesto.
  • Condiment Style: Use it as a condiment for sushi rolls or other small bites.
  • Balance Sweetness: Use it for contrast in a sweet glaze for fish or duck, or even homemade almond butter cup fillings.
Maribeth NGI

Student Maribeth Evezich in the NGI Kitchen

These ideas were contributed by Chef Olivia Roszkowski, Lori Brosier, Katrina Fineza, Yadira Garcia, Alena Grahn, Nick Pescatore and Vidya Rao