NOURISHING ESSENTIALS (April 2024) - Sakura & Ume: A Taste of Spring in Japan

Neri Ume (Traditional Pickled Plum Paste)

Neri Ume (Traditional Pickled Plum Paste) (ねり梅(白干梅))
Producer:Kishu No Umekura
Prefecture: Wakayama
Ingredients:Ume (Japanese plum), salt
Vegan, Gluten-free, Dairy-free, Soy-free
Suggested uses:

This traditional ume paste is full of flavor, so we suggest adding a small amount to your favorite dishes, such as chicken or pork, for a touch of salty sourness. It pairs wonderfully with shiso (Japanese basil) or basil in dishes. Combine it with honey to create a sweet yet sour sauce that can be used to flavor meat and vegetables or even dress salads. For a more traditional take, it can be mixed with katsuobushi (dried tuna flakes) to make a delicious filling for onigiri (rice balls), added to a bowl of okayu (rice porridge) or soup when added to hot water. Combine with olive oil, soy sauce, sugar, vinegar to make a salad dressing. Try it in the Ume and Chicken Pasta and Ume Teriyaki Chicken recipes provided.
Storage: Refrigerate after opening 

Derived from umeboshi (Japanese pickled plums), neri ume is an easy-to-use paste, which has become a staple ingredient in many households across Japan. It adds a distinct tart but subtly sweet flavor to everything from sauces and soups to salads and noodles. Most notably, it is a popular filling for onigiri (rice balls), adding a pleasant pucker and splash of bright pink to the white rice. The fruit-based paste also adds an element of salt and beautifully complements the flavors of other ingredients such as shiso (perilla leaf) in pasta and rice dishes, and honey in sauces. 

Kishu No Umekura, based in Minabe Town in Wakayama, is one of the largest producers of ume in Japan but still takes careful pride in making their umeboshi products. While ume typically grows more sour as it ripens, the small team at Kishu No Umekura meticulously selects slightly under-ripened green ume to create a more flavorful product. Their skilled craftsmen then boil down the fruit by hand to create their wide array of products.

Ume Seaweed Dashi Ochazuke (Tea Over Rice) Seasoning

Ume & Seaweed Dashi Ochazuke (Japanese Plum & Seaweed Tea Over Rice) Seasoning (体にやさしいだし茶漬け (うめ))
Producer:Mica Corporation
Prefecture: Shizuoka
Ingredients:Dried bonito flakes (domestic), dried umeboshi (Japanese pickled plum), rock salt, arare (glutinous rice cracker pieces), matcha, nori (roasted seaweed), konbu (kelp), wakame seaweed, dried mitsuba (Japanese wild parsley) 
Gluten-free, Dairy-free, Soy-free
Suggested uses: Pour the contents of the ochazuke packet over a small bowl of cooked white rice (leftover rice works great) and add 150ml (about ⅔ cup) of hot water. Mix to distribute the seasoning and enjoy! 

Ochazuke is a simple and satisfying staple of home cooking in Japan. Composed of steamed rice covered in tea or dashi (umami-rich broth) with an assortment of savory ingredients, it is similar to a soupy rice porridge and is often eaten as a quick and easy meal. This instant ochazuke packet makes enjoying this delightful dish even easier. Simply add the contents of the packet to a small bowl of white rice, mix with hot water, and enjoy the warm, comforting dish. 

The base flavors for this ochazuke seasoning come from the dashi and matcha granules, giving the broth a mellow earthiness. Dried umeboshi adds a hint of tart tanginess while konbu (kelp), wakame seaweed and nori (roasted seaweed) impart a pleasant umami flavor. Arare (glutinous rice cracker pieces) add an exciting bit of texture in contrast to the soft tea-steeped rice.

With over 70 years of experience in the seafood industry, Yamahei Fisheries, in combination with Mika Corporation, strives to create high-quality dashi-based products. Their commitment to tradition and quality earned them the Yellow Ribbon Medal of Honor, bestowed by the emperor of Japan for diligent work in industries and agriculture, in 2006.


Sakura Salt

Sakura Salt (国産 桜の塩)
Producer:Umi no Sei
Prefecture: Tokyo
Ingredients:Roasted salt (from Izu Oshima Island), salted sakura (cherry blossoms)
Vegan, Gluten-free, Dairy-free, Soy-free
Suggested uses: This domestically made sakura salt adds strong notes of sakura to sweet and savory dishes alike. Sprinkle on fried dishes like tempura, steamed vegetables, or carpaccio for a floral finish. For a sweet surprise, try topping your ice cream with a dash of this beautiful pink salt.
Storage: Room temperature

The eye-catching pink of this sakura salt comes from yaezakura (multi-layered cherry blossoms) which are hand-picked on the mountains of Yoshino in Nara Prefecture, one of Japan’s most famous sakura spots. The delicate blooms are first preserved in sea salt then soaked in white plum vinegar, a by-product of the umeboshi (Japanese pickled plums) making process, giving the resulting pickled sakura a unique flavor. These pickled sakura are then combined with Umi no Sei’s high-quality sea salt. 

Embracing tradition, Umi no Sei still produces their salt using 100% seawater from Izu Oshima Island which is dried under the sun in shallow kettles. Their dedication to honoring their ancestors' knowledge and techniques has helped them to revive this method, which was banned in 1971 but later re-established thanks to their work with the Japanese Edible Salt Study Group. 

Add the fragrance, taste, and colors of spring in Japan to your dishes with a sprinkle of this seasonally-produced salt. Umi no Sei notes that using it as a finishing salt for plain or white foods such as rice, noodle soup, tofu, and hanpen (pounded fish cakes) creates a stunning visual contrast and allows the flavors to shine.


Sakura Jam


Sakura Jam (桜ジャム)
Producer:Shinshu Shizen Okoku
Prefecture: Nagano
Ingredients:Sugar (domestic), salted sakura(cherry blossoms flowers, plum vinegar, salt), rice flour, ume (Japanese plum) syrup, shiso extract
Vegan, Gluten-free, Dairy-free, Soy-free
Suggested uses: Offering a fragrant floral taste of spring, this sakura jam can be used in both sweet and savory applications. When combined with ingredients such as vinegar, lemon juice, salt, and olive oil (as in our Sakura Jam Sauce recipe on ourwebsite) it makes a delicious sauce that lends a light floral taste to vegetables, fish, poultry, and pork. To satisfy your sweet tooth try using it as a topping for toast, ice cream, or yogurt, or use it as a substitute for bean paste in your favorite Japanese desserts and baked goods. 
Storage: Refrigerate after opening and use as soon as possible

Nagano, where our local producer Shinsu Shizen Okoku is based, is home to Takato Castle. In early to mid-April, an estimated 1500 Kohigan sakura trees brighten the castle grounds with their pink petals, just as they have for centuries. These beautiful blooms are the star ingredient of this sakura jam. After being salted for preservation they are simmered with just the right amount of sugar and ume juice to yield a lightly sweetened jam with subtle floral notes. This pleasantly pink spread captures the fleeting beauty of sakura and makes for the perfect addition to your pantry, offering a taste of spring any time of the year.

Having started as an association focused on producing and providing organic fruits and vegetables, Shinsu Shizen Okoku has a deep connection with nature. The company has since expanded to now include over 200 original products such as jams, seasonings, and side dishes. However, their commitment to creating delicious food and protecting the environment continues. Shinsu Shizen Okuku has embraced what they call “environmental cultivation” as they strive to find new earth-friendly farming, production, and shipping methods.


Sakura Pasta


Sakura Shaped Pasta (桜パスタ)
Prefecture: Yamagata
Ingredients:Durum wheat semolina (domestic), beet paste, salt
Vegan, Dairy-free, Soy-free
Suggested uses: This eye-catching pasta is carefully dried to retain both its unique sakura shape and pleasant chewy texture even after boiling. It adds a perfect touch of springtime whimsical color to everything from salads to soups and other simmered dishes. We recommend boiling the pasta for about 3½ mins for the perfect al dente texture (try using it in theUme and Chicken Pasta recipe provided). Please note, if using in soups the color of the soup will become pink.
Storage: Room temperature, use as soon as possible after opening.

This sakura-shaped pasta has a stunning shade of pink which is achieved by adding domestically grown Italian beetroot to the dough. It is skillfully dried at low temperatures giving it a chewy texture similar to that of fresh pasta. The pasta retains its unique shape and color after cooking, adding a lovely pop of color to any dish.

While Tamaya Seimenjo excels at producing traditional noodles that bring a taste of Japanese home cooking to tables around the world, they also push the boundaries of their imaginations to create new products. This sakura pasta is a part of their “art pasta” series, one of their newer endeavors, which focuses on attention to detail with precise yet whimsical shapes and creative colors. Featuring smiling suns, cherries, snowflakes, flowers, and even soybean pod shapes, the new pasta line is sure to bring a smile to your face. 

Situated at the foot of Mt. Gassan in Yamagata in Nishikawa Town, Tamaya Seimenjo is a generations-old noodle manufacturing company. First established in 1949 as a dry noodle manufacturer, the company has since expanded to also include a wide array of raw noodles. While Yamagata is sometimes called the hometown of soba, today they also proudly produce udon, ramen, hiyamugi, somen and pasta. Making the most of the natural resources in the area, they utilize locally grown buckwheat in their soba and make their noodles with water from Mt. Gassan, which is one of the best sources of natural water in Japan. As the company nears its 75th anniversary, it continues to embrace age-old techniques in hopes of preserving soba culture for the next generation.


Ume, Soy Sauce & Bancha Green Tea Brown Rice Okayu (Porridge)

Ume (Japanese Plum), Soy Sauce & Bancha (Green Tea) Brown Rice Okayu (Porridge) (梅醤入り玄米番茶がゆ)
Producer:Kojima Foods
Prefecture: Aichi
Ingredients:Organic brown rice (domestic), plum paste, organic roasted green tea, soy sauce, ginger (includes soy and wheat)
Vegan, Dairy-free
Suggested uses: This nourishing porridge can be served hot or at room temperature. We suggest trying it hot on cold days or days when you are feeling under the weather. It can be heated by warming the unopened package in a pot of boiling water for 3 mins or by pouring the contents of the packet into a dish and microwaving it for 2 mins (500W). On hot summer days try it chilled or at room temperature for a refreshing and light meal. You can also add a dollop of theneri umeincluded in this package for extra ume flavor. For a more substantial meal, try adding a dash of salt and powdered dashi along with shredded chicken, ground pork, or seafood as a topping.
Storage: Room temperature, consume immediately after opening.

Okayu (Japanese rice porridge similar to congee) is an easy to make traditional Japanese comfort food. The base of the porridge consists of rice which is simmered with extra water until the grains of rice are extremely soft, making it easily digestible and gentle on the stomach. 

Kojima Foods makes this okayu from domestically grown brown rice and thoughtfully flavors it with a seasoning of umeboshi (pickled plum) paste, soy sauce, grated ginger, and sannen bancha. Sannen bancha, also called three-year bancha, is a type of Japanese green tea made with mature tea leaves left after the summer or autumn harvest. The leaves are steamed, dried, and aged at room temperature for 3 years resulting in a lighter tea low in caffeine. Together, these ingredients echo those of plum sauce tea, which is said to help fight fatigue, and the resulting porridge carries a savory aroma of bancha and the slight fruity tang of plums. 

Kojima Foods believes in the nutrition of brown rice and has made it their mission to make their delicious, high-quality brown rice products accessible to everyone. They take great care in securing only the best organic rice made by local farmers for their products, which are easy to prepare and ideal for those leading busy lives but still seeking well-balanced meals.


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