Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Umeboshi (Pickled Plum) Potato Sticks
When I was a kid, I didn't care much for pickles, but I did like to drink small amounts of the pickling juice from the far as it emptied of cucumbers. I like to think that the ability to consume something so intensely salty and sour at a young age paved the way for me to enjoy umeboshi when I got to Japan. Umeboshi are tiny little pickled plums that are often placed atop the rice portion of a bento (box lunch). You also see them set out on tables in little covered dishes at restaurants for patrons to partake of with various dishes. They're small, wrinkled little fruits which look like a red raisin that has bloated up to about ten times its normal size.
Since umeboshi are so sour, Japanese people delight in asking foreign folks residing in Japan if they can stomach them. It comes in third place in the "can you eat it" game. For the record, natto (fermented soybeans) is number one on the list and sushi is two. I can eat them straight with no problem, but I think many people find them too intense to eat even as an accompaniment to other foods.
Enter these processed potato sticks by Calbee. They are advertised as tasting "faintly" or lightly of umeboshi. These snacks don't smell much at all like anything other than fried potato snack, but not in terms of smelling much like chips. They smell like generic processed fried food with a vague hint of vinegar if you stick it right up to your nose and inhale deeply (the things I do for these reviews). I don't think umeboshi carry much of their own smell, so not much can be expected on that front.
The sticks are super crunchy and lightly salted. They taste mostly like potato, but there is a slightly sour finishing taste. Even though there are little flecks of plum in them, the taste is very subdued. These are clearly designed for umeboshi sissies who can't take much strong flavor. Since I like the intense sourness and saltiness of umeboshi, they seemed about a half step removed from plain Calbee sticks to me.
These weren't bad, but I wouldn't buy them again. The main reason for that is that these are fairly densely caloric at 287 calories for 58 grams (2 oz.) and I don't especially prefer slightly greasy straws of processed potato to chips or rice crackers. I'd go for something with more flavor or with less processing. However, if you want to dip a wary toe into the waters of umeboshi consumption, these may not be the worst place to start.