The phrase “add it to everything” gets thrown around a lot in food writing, but there really are a lot of ingredients that immediately transform and elevate a dish into a better version of itself. The ingredients usually bring umami, acid, or some sort of combination of the two. Often they “round out” the flavor profile or smooth over any unpleasant or aggressive flavors. Umeboshi—Japanese salted and pickled plum—is one of these ingredients.
You can buy the plums (which are really more of an apricot) whole, or you can purchase them as a paste. I like the paste, as it’s easy to smear on and stir into things. I’ve been stirring it into cranberry sauce, and it is good. Unlike other ingredients you should add to everything, umeboshi paste doesn’t have meaty, roasted flavors. It’s savory, but it’s a briny savoriness, not a roasted one. It’s also fairly acidic and salty. It’s very bold on its own, but it brings a subtle tangy salinity when mixed into a batch of—well—anything.
Cranberry sauce isn’t exactly lacking in the tang department, but it’s the brininess of the umeboshi that really makes it shine here. It reels in any cloying qualities, and makes the crimson condiment taste more interesting. You can’t tell that something unusual has been added, not really. Instead, you get a sauce that’s just a little tangier, and a lot more intriguing. A tablespoon in a “usual” batch of cranberry sauce (made with 12 ounces of fresh berries) will give your sauce a slight briny edge—like the berries came from the ocean, rather than a freshwater bog—but two will make it pleasantly piquant. Just cook your sauce as you usually would, let it cool slightly, add paste, stir, taste, and add a little more if you like.