Korean green plums (매실 Maesil, also: Chinese plum or Japanese ume) have been around for a long time. Records of its medicinal purposes go far back as 200 AD. But 매실 엑기스(Maesil Aekiss) or 매실청 (Maseil Chung) – green plum syrup – has only appeared in Korean cooking in the last 10 years or so. If you watch any Korean cooking shows or look up recipes on the internet these days, the syrup is used just about everywhere. In fact, it’s used a little too much in my opinion but that’s just me..
The two terms, Aekiss (엑기스) and Chung (청) are used interchangeably to describe green plum syrup. The word “Aekiss” comes from Japanese and it was their take on the word “extract”. Don’t ask me how you get “aekiss” from “extract”.. On a side note, it IS amazing how languages change in different cultures..I’m constantly reminded not to pronounce English words correctly in Korea because people never understand what I say. For example, if I say “Food” almost no one will understand whereas if I say “Pood”.. then everyone knows it!
The word Chung actually means a type of syrup that’s made by either physically or chemically changing certain grains without any added sugar. For example, Brown Rice Syrup (called 조청 Cho Chung) is made from culturing cooked rice with enzymes with no additional sugar. So if you think about it, neither of these terms are fully accurate..
While I was living in the US, I resisted using Maesil Chung in my recipes. It’s not something I grew up eating and therefore I did not feel it was authentic. Also, green plum syrup is not a very readily available ingredient for many people outside of Korea, so I hesitated using them in my Kimchimari recipes. BTW, if you can’t get any plum syrup, no worries, just use plain ol’ sugar or rice syrup instead.
Now that I’m living in Korea, I’m finding that I just can not ignore Maesil Chung anymore. It is such an integral part of Korean cooking that both my mother and mother-in-law (who is usually very traditional) now make maesil chung every year! In addition to being a great fragrant sweetener in cooking, Maesil also has many health benefits. Probably why it’s become so popular in Korea because Koreans just LOVE anything that is known to be healthy.
This May, I found these wonderful plum trees in our farm and after having tried it for a year, I just could not pass up the chance to make the maesil syrup myself!
** 2 lbs of plums produce about 1 quart of syrup
- 2 lbs Green Plums
- 2 lbs sugar (white or organic unbleached)~ 2.4 lbs sugar
- 1 glass jar or breathable earthen ware (항아리 Haangari) large enough to hold both sugar and plum
- Wash the plums and drain. Let the plums completely dry by leaving it for few hours in a colander or better yet, spread them out onto a baking pan or tray lined with paper towel.
- While the plums are drying, remove any stems including the little stub near the stem. Removing the stub is not a must but if you don’t, stubs will later float around in the syrup and you will have to strain it to get rid of it. Leaving the stubs intact also increases the chance of mold developing in the syrup.
- Discard any plums that are rotten because these can spoil the syrup.
- Sanitize the glass jar by rinsing it with boiling water or alcohol.
- Layer sugar and plums alternately in the jar. This means you need to divide the sugar and the plums equally so that you don’t run out of sugar at the end. If you layer the sugar so that it just about covers the layer of plums, it should work out OK.
And that’s it! Cover the jar and leave it in a cool place for 90 days and the syrup should be ready.
BUT WAIT!!! A bit more work is still needed..many (including me) have failed because they did not stir the syrup afterwards. See below – notice how the sugar has accumulated at the bottom of the jar. You need to stir the syrup every 2 days or so (prob. for about 7-10 days) until the sugar is fully dissolved in the plum juice. You should still stir the plum syrup every now and then for the remaining 80 days. Stir if you see the top plums take on a different color or if you see white stuff appearing on top.
In addition, consider the following:
- Don’t hold back on the SUGAR!!
- The key to making good plum syrup is the ratio of plum to sugar. The basic is 1:1 but depending on how big and juicy the plums are, you may want to increase the ratio to 1:2. More sugar increases the success rate since more sugar means less chance for mold to develop or turn sour instead of sweet. A friend of mine used exact 1:1 ratio and failed on her first try. So I decided to increase the sugar amount to not quite 1:2 but something like 1:1.5..and SUCCESS!!
- · What sugar to use? Brown vs White vs Organic?
- This is quite a dilemma…Using white sugar will intensify the plum fragrance in the syrup but we all know it’s not the best thing for your health. I used organic unbleached sugar here. Brown sugar contains molasses like substance in addition to sugar which can diminish the flavor and fragrance of the green plums.
History of Korean plums: The oldest record of these little plums is in Chinese medicine. Chinese smoked these on top of a fire and used it to relieve pain and also take care of intestinal problems. Japanese used Ume Boshi to prevent rice from going bad in the summer.
In the last few years, studies have shown the following:
- The large amount of citric acid in the plums help the body get rid of lactic acid therefore helping the body recover faster
- The acidic plums help with secretion of saliva and digestive enzymes aiding with digestion
- The plum syrup kills off harmful bacteria to help with diarrhea and promote normal bowel function
From my personal experience. drinking plum syrup + water definitely helps with indigestion especially after a large meal so it’s definitely a great dessert drink. Enjoy!!