I personally taste-tested a variety of umeboshi vinegar (also known as plum vinegar) substitutes to find the best one for every occasion. Whether you’re on the hunt for the closest flavor match, in need of a last-minute pantry swap, or want a substitute that fits your diet, I’ve got the answers.
If you can find umeboshi paste, you can mix this with water to create a substitute for umeoshi vinegar. Or you can use a combination of red wine vinegar and soy sauce. In a pinch, you can swap the vinegar with lemon juice and the soy sauce for salt. Tamarind is another interesting option.
I made small batches of ume plum vinaigrette using this recipe to try out several umeboshi vinegar substitutes.
Umeboshi vinegar isn’t considered a traditional vinegar. It’s the liquid that comes from pickled umeboshi plums. It has a distinct sour-salty flavor with a prominent fruity punch that sets it apart from other vinegars. It’s very popular in Japanese cuisine, but it’s also gaining popularity in the USA because of its natural health benefits.
You can find it in recipes ranging from dressing and marinades, to drinks and sushi. No ingredient can really compare to this vinegar because it’s so unique, but I found a few decent options.
Here are the substitutes I tested and my verdicts:
|Substitutes||How to Substitute (for ¼ cup umeboshi vinegar)||Verdict|
|Umeboshi paste||1 tbsp umeboshi paste + 4 tbsps water||9/10|
|Red wine vinegar + soy sauce||¼ cup red wine vinegar + 1 tsp soy sauce||9/10|
|Fruity vinegar + salt||¼ cup apple cider vinegar + ½ tsp salt||7/10|
|Lemon juice + soy sauce||1 tbsp soy sauce + 3 tbsp lemon juice||7/10|
|Fish sauce + balsamic vinegar||2 tsp fish sauce + 4 tsp balsamic vinegar||8/10|
|Tamarind||4 teaspoons of tamarind paste + salt to taste||7/10|
|Li Hing Mui powder||1 tbsp li hing mui powder, dissolved in water if necessary||7/10|
The best way to replicate the flavor of umeboshi vinegar is to use another product based on umeboshi.
Umeboshi paste is made from pureed umeboshi plums and has the same sour, salty, and sweet flavors as umeboshi vinegar. But the flavor is a lot more concentrated, so you need to be careful not to use too much.
The recipe I used called for ¼ cup of vinegar, but I only used a tablespoon of umeboshi paste mixed with four tablespoons of water and a splash of apple cider vinegar. I added the vinegar to better mimic the tanginess of umeboshi vinegar but it’s not essential.
Wondering where to get some umeboshi paste? You can buy it online (just like the vinegar), or check your local Asian supermarkets.
How to substitute: ¼ cup umeboshi vinegar = 1 tbsp umeboshi paste + 4 tbsp water (to make up for the volume).
Red wine vinegar + soy sauce
This combination is a convenient alternative to umeboshi vinegar that you might already have in your cupboard. It’s simple, effective, and cheap.
Red wine vinegar has rich, fruity notes similar to umeboshi vinegar, although it’s slightly tangier. The soy sauce is there to mimic the saltiness of umeboshi and provide some umaminess and depth.
The only caveat is that the balance between the vinegar and soy sauce needs to be just right. Too much soy sauce and your dish will be too salty. For my vinaigrette, I mixed a teaspoon of soy sauce with a ¼ cup of red wine vinegar and it worked out nicely.
How to substitute: ¼ cup umeboshi vinegar = ¼ cup red wine vinegar + 1 tsp soy sauce
Fruity vinegar + salt
Maybe you’re not a fan of soy sauce, or you’ve run out of red wine vinegar. Don’t worry, I have another trick up my sleeve.
As basic as it might sound, a mix of any fruity vinegar and salt can get you surprisingly close to umeboshi vinegar’s flavor profile. I used a ¼ cup of apple cider vinegar, which has some subtle fruity notes, and mixed it with ½ a teaspoon of salt. It wasn’t perfect because there was no umami kick, and the apple cider vinegar is more acidic than umeboshi vinegar.
But it’s a quick and easy sub that’ll save you a trip to the grocery store.
Psst… Feel free to experiment with other fruit-based vinegar or even rice vinegar for a slightly sweeter flavor profile. If you can find it, umami-loaded black vinegar is a great choice.
How to substitute: ¼ cup umeboshi vinegar = ¼ cup apple cider vinegar + ½ tsp salt
Lemon juice + soy sauce
Lemon juice has a sharp tang and the citrusy flavor isn’t something you’d associate with umeboshi vinegar. But if you only want to replicate the sour-salty sensation that umeboshi vinegar brings to the table, this combination is a lifesaver.
Like with the red wine vinegar substitute, using soy sauce adds an umami dimension to the lemon’s acidity, helping balance out the flavors. It was a bit of trial-and-error to get the perfect blend, but I ended up mixing 3 tablespoons of lemon juice and 1 tablespoon of soy sauce for my vinaigrette.
Psst… Always use fresh lemon juice. It’s brighter and has a vibrancy you can’t get with the bottled stuff. Lime juice or grapefruit juice can work too, but have their own individual flavors.
How to substitute: ¼ cup umeboshi vinegar = 1 tbsp soy sauce + 3 tbsp lemon juice
Fish sauce + balsamic vinegar
Umeboshi vinegar’s saltiness is often compared to fish sauce, but you can’t use fish sauce as a substitute on its own because it lacks the sour and fruity notes that make umeboshi vinegar so unique.
Balsamic vinegar is sweet, fruity, and acidic. Its robust flavor is perfect for balancing out the fish sauce’s intense saltiness. And the best part? Both ingredients are naturally loaded with umami goodness that’s sure to jazz up even the most boring bowl of leafy greens.
Pro tip: Both of these ingredients are very potent, so start with small amounts and build up from there.
How to substitute: ¼ cup umeboshi vinegar = 2 tsp fish sauce + 4 tsp balsamic vinegar
Tamarind and umeboshi vinegar are distinct in flavor, but both have tangy and sour profiles, making tamarind a decent substitute option for umeboshi vinegar.
Tamarind is a tropical, sour fruit that’s used as a souring agent in Southeast Asian and Indian dishes. It’s got the same tanginess as umeboshi vinegar, but you’ll need to add some salt. It’s also got sweet and earthy undertones.
You can get tamarind in different forms like pulp, pastes, or juice. If you have the pulp or the paste, you might need to dilute it with water to get a similar consistency to umeboshi vinegar.
How to substitute: ¼ cup umeboshi vinegar = 4 teaspoons of tamarind paste or concentrate and add salt to taste.
Li hing mui powder
Li hing mui powder is popular in Hawaii and comes from Chinese salted plums, which are pretty similar to umeboshi plums. So it’s no surprise that this vibrant orange powder shares a sweet-sour flavor and distinct saltiness with umeboshi vinegar.
This powder is typically sprinkled over fruits or cocktails (like in the video below). But it worked like a charm in place of umeboshi vinegar in my vinaigrette.
This powder is pretty potent, so I only used a tablespoon dissolved in ¼ cup of water to make up for the volume. But you can also get away with sprinkling this directly over your dish if your recipe uses umeboshi vinegar as a finishing touch.
How to substitute: ¼ cup umeboshi vinegar = 1 tbsp li hing mui powder, dissolved in water if necessary
Substitutes to avoid
I came across lots of suggestions for umeboshi vinegar substitutes while I was researching, but not all of them worked out. One suggestion was malt vinegar, which I found to be more nutty than fruity.
Mirin was another suggestion that I have to disagree with. It’s too sweet and its tangy notes are too light to replicate umeboshi vinegar. I’d rather stick with red wine or balsamic vinegar instead.
Best Umeboshi Vinegar substitutes + 2 To Avoid
- ¼ cup red wine vinegar + 1 tsp soy sauce
- ¼ cup apple cider vinegar + 1 tsp salt
- ⅛ cup soy sauce + ⅛ cup lemon juice
- ⅛ cup fish sauce + ⅛ cup balsamic vinegar
- 1 tbsp umeboshi paste + 4 tbsps water
- 1 tbsp li hing mui powder, dissolved in water if necessary
- Cook your meal according to the recipe.
- Add your chosen umeboshi vinegar substitute at the appropriate cooking time.
- Mix until thoroughly combined with the recipe.