When I tell people what ingredients I use in my recipes, the one mostly likely evoke a blank stare is also one I rely on a great deal: umeboshi vinegar. In fact, I find it so useful, I’ve taken to calling it “mother’s little helper.” Like butter, it makes almost everything taste better. Unlike butter, it is fat free.
So, what in the world is umeboshi vinegar? More or less, it is the liquid left from the process of making umeboshi plums. These plums, actually a kind of pickled apricot, have a mythic status in Japanese cuisine and culture as a cure for everything from a hangover to anemia. I can testify from personal experience to their usefulness in alkalizing an upset stomach, for example.
While umeboshi plums are notable for their medicinal qualities, umeboshi vinegar is noted mostly for it culinary properties. Both somewhat salty and a bit tart, it is a perfect seasoning for beans of all types, for grains, especially grain salads, and in salad dressings. If something is tasting a bit bland and you’re not sure what it needs, sprinkle in a little umeboshi vinegar and it many cases it will brighten the flavor right up. Should you find yourself with no umeboshi vinegar, a combination of salt and lemon juice makes an approximate replacement. You’ll find umeboshi vinegar in most well-stocked natural foods stores. Try it, I think you’ll be as hooked on “mother’s little helper” as I am.