Preserved wife plum

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No, these are not plums consisting of preserved wives, nor are they plums made by preserved wives, nor are they anything else you are likely to think of based on the English name.

Why am I even talking about this?  How did this bizarre subject come up?

In a comment to "Vegetable students" (7/11/17), David Morris asked about the name of a Chinese snack called "Preserved Wife Plum" that a colleague offered to him.  He said that "three Chinese speaking ESL or translating teachers couldn't explain" the name.  I made some preliminary attempts to describe what this snack was like, but David and John Swindle repeated the request for an explanation of the name.

I was snared.

So I looked into "preserved wife plum" a bit more, and now I see that it is all over the internet (362,000 ghits).  Here's one description, by gentlemanfarmer, on the LiveJournal website:

Preserved Wife Plum

On the way home from work yesterday, I stopped in at an Asian grocery.  I needed a sack of rice, and I wanted to get some noodles and dumplings.  Asians are big on convenience foods, so I like to try some once in a while (dried squid, wasabi peas, etc).  I picked up a bag of rice crackers and also a package with the eye-catching name "Preserved Wife Plum."  What are these?  Well I bought them, and it is an adventure to read the package.  Lots of lost in translation stuff:  "Keep it at the cool and dry place, away from the direct sunlight," and "Protect environment – Main ourself pride."  These are from the Guangdong Farmer's Grange Food Industry Co., Ltd. and they are actually pretty tasty.  Dried and salty and sweet and a little plummy, still with the pit.  On the front of the package a green square with Chinese script and I guess the English translation, "Green Ecology Limitless Magnificence."  Also a red square with the words:  "Additional Support:  We like the new taste. We need the quality and we need the best food. Here you will find what you want. Cool fashion need Cool taste. You are the new man. How delicious can not forget special taste. Return the pure flavor.  Give you the minerable feeling."What does "minerable" mean, I wonder?They have "sodium saccharin" in the ingredient list!

Here, on the Yummy 99 website, you can buy "Farmer's Grange Preserved Wife Plum (108g)" for $1.99.  Sounds like a real bargain.

On the top left of the front of the package, it says:

"GREEN ECOLOGY LIMITLESS MAGNIFICENCE" for lǜsè shēngtài  wúxiàn huólì 绿色生态 无限活力 ("green ecology  unlimited vitality").

Top right:

méizi suānsuān 梅子酸酸 ("really sour plums")

We also learn that good ol' Farmer's Grange Preserved Wife Plum is a famous brand from Guangdong Province.  They seem to be very fond of their brand name, "Farmer's Grange" (Nóngfū shānzhuāng 农夫山庄), and have plastered it over the front of the package in English and in Chinese characters set in various fonts.

Nóngfū 农夫 straightforwardly means "farmer" (we used to sometimes translate it as "peasant", but, for ideological reasons, that rendering has fallen into disfavor during the last few decades).

Shānzhuāng 山庄 could mean "hill station; country villa; mountain lodge", but I think "grange", in the British sense of "a farm, especially the residence and outbuildings of a gentleman farmer", rather than the American sense of "an association of farmers founded in the United States in 1867", sounds appropriate in this instance.

Parts of the label are almost as overly informative as the homilies one finds on a bottle of Dr. Bronner's Castile soap.

The main thing the label tells us, though, is that the product inside is lǎopó méi 老婆梅.  The first word, lǎopó 老婆, can mean "old woman", "woman", or it can serve as a folksy, casual reference for "wife", something like "missus" or "old lady" (in the sense of "wife").  The second word is just méi 梅 ("plum").  Together, they make lǎopó méi 老婆梅 ("missus plum").

The jiǔzhì 九制 before the name lǎopó méi 老婆梅 ("missus plum") means "ninefold processed" and signifies that this product is supposedly highly refined.

I think that the key to grasping the nuances of lǎopó méi 老婆梅 ("missus plum") may be found at this website, which is dedicated to answering tough questions.  Here it is contrasted with another type of preserved plum, the qíngrén méi 情人梅 ("mistress plum").  The former, preserved lǎopó méi 老婆梅 ("missus plum"), may be characterized as tart and smart, the latter, preserved qíngrén méi 情人梅 ("mistress plum"), is described as sweet and juicy.  While the names of these two types of preserved plums are clever marketing ploys, they are indicative of the different ways in which they are prepared.  The qíngrén méi 情人梅 ("mistress plum") is soaked in a sugar solution, whereas the lǎopó méi 老婆梅 ("missus plum") is preserved with table salt, white sugar, and licorice (other flavorings may be added as well).

Due to the different techniques for preservation, the lǎopó méi 老婆梅 ("missus plum") is darker, salty, and wrinkled, whereas the qíngrén méi 情人梅 ("mistress plum") is succulent and ruddily orangish (see the comments for a discussion of "orange") with a white, powdery, cosmetic efflorescence on the more rounded, softer, nubile surface.

I hope that I have done justice to those who were eager to know, "why 'wife plum'".

[Thanks to T K Mair and Jeroen Wiedenhof]


  1. Gene Anderson said,

    July 12, 2017 @ 10:32 am

    This is fascinating. Of course the fruit isn't plums, it's flowering apricots (sour apricots). There is also the possible connection that pregnant women are traditionally said to crave suan mei (sour apricots) just as American pregnant women crave pickles. Can't say for sure. The translation "peasant" fell out of use not because of ideology but because it was wrong. "Peasant" referred to a specific, discriminated-against class opposed to yeoman farmers. All Chinese farmers were yeoman farmers by European standards, except for serfs and slaves. So the word was just wrong. Mote discusses this in IMPERIAL CHINA 900-1800.
    Anyway, good for the plums…

  2. cameron said,

    July 12, 2017 @ 11:39 am

    So they have wife plums and maiden plums. Where are the crone plums?

  3. Mara K said,

    July 12, 2017 @ 11:46 am

    How many different kinds of Chinese fruits are referred to as 梅? And what's the relationship between them and Western plums?

  4. Victor Mair said,

    July 12, 2017 @ 1:14 pm

    In this comment to the "Vegetable students" post, I had mentioned that umeboshi, a close Japanese analog to these Chinese missus plums and mistress plums, though called plums, were actually closer to apricots.

  5. CuConnacht said,

    July 12, 2017 @ 1:29 pm

    Addendum to Gene Anderson's post: The pregnancy of the Duchess of Malfi in John Webster's tragedy is confirmed when she craves apricots.

  6. John Swindle said,

    July 12, 2017 @ 5:44 pm


  7. David Morris said,

    July 12, 2017 @ 7:24 pm

    Thank you. My question (to my colleagues and you) was not 'describing what the snack was like' (which I found out myself immediately) or general information about it (which I found out via a Major Search Engine) but the origin of the name, which I couldn't find.

    This is exactly the same product as my colleagues offered me, but I included a photo I took myself, which slightly truncates the edges of the pack.

    My briefer blog post about this is at:

    I will now link to this post, and forward it to my colleagues.

  8. Victor Mair said,

    July 12, 2017 @ 7:28 pm

    The Chinese scientific and popular nomenclature for Prunus species is complicated.

    Jeroen Wiedenhof quotes the linguist Yuen Ren Chao: "Nobody calls a plum *lii or *lieel [i.e. PY *lǐ or *liěr]" and recommends his "Popular Chinese plant words". The quote is from the first page, the mei.tzy [méizi] appears on p. 401. Chao's article is available in JSTOR.

    Georges Metailie, a specialist on Chinese botanical terminology, writes: "'Plum' is just a wrong translation for 梅 which in Chinese technical literature is never considered as a 'plum' but as a kind of 'apricot' 杏, "杏梅" being a category already mentioned in the 尔雅 and different from ""桃李". A proper translation for mei is "Japanese apricot", the botanical name being Prunus mume (Sieb.) Sieb. et Zucc.

    "As for 李 it designates a plum Prunus salicina Lindl."

  9. Kobo Daishi said,

    July 12, 2017 @ 8:55 pm

    As a kid, my mother enjoyed eating a type of Chinese pastry called 老婆餅, they came 6 to a packet and were readily available in the Chinatown markets.

    I always thought it was called so because wives enjoyed eating it or that it was made by wives for feast days back in the day. In those days, village wives would gather to make dim sum and other feast foods for festivals.

    Anyway, here are the links to the Wikipedia entry for 老婆餅 and its English equivalent entry Sweetheart cake with several origin stories..

    While the Guoyu Cidian put out by the Ministry of Education of the Republic of China (Taiwan) has as definition for 老婆餅:


    Apparently 老婆餅 has been around since at least the Qing Dynasty according to Xu Ke's Qing bai lei chao.

    According to the Wikipedia article, Qing Bai Lei Chao was an unofficial history of the Qing Dynasty published in 48 volumes put out in 1917

    Haven't seen any 老婆餅 in Los Angeles' Chinatown recently, but, haven't been specifically looking for it.

    Should be available in the Chinese burbs out in the San Gabriel Valley though.

    Now kind of want to eat some. Might try looking for some next time I'm in Chinatown. ;-0

  10. liuyao said,

    July 12, 2017 @ 9:11 pm

    I wonder if this is a recent marketing name. I grew up only knowing 话梅 (talk/speech "plum"), which is the darker kind, though it never crossed my mind where that name came from.

    The "wife plum" reminds me of 老婆饼, which is from the Guangdong (Canton) province.

  11. Kobo Daishi said,

    July 12, 2017 @ 9:50 pm

    Speaking of preserved plums, it reminds me of an article I saw back in January at the NPR (National Public Radio) web site titled Chamoy Is Mexico's Flavor Fiesta Condiment, Courtesy Of China.

    From the article:

    But this Mexican snack actually started off as a Chinese one, and took hundreds of years to work its way into popular Mexican culture. Rachel Laudan, the first food historian to track chamoy's journey, explains that it is "a Mexican rendering of see mui," a salty, dried apricot common in China, as well as the inspiration for Japanese umeboshi, a pickled, salted apricot.

    Laudan isn't sure when see mui came to Mexico, but says that Asians have been migrating to the country since the 1560s in Spanish ships that traded Chinese silk and spices for silver.

    Laudan only figured out chamoy's Chinese heritage because she had lived in Hawaii, where she encountered crack seed, which is essentially chamoy's sister.

    Crack seed is a salted, preserved licorice-flavored apricot that is cracked so the exposed seed will impart flavor. She learned that the Cantonese name for crack seed is see mui, and it came to Hawaii with Chinese plantation workers in the 19th century. See mui is pronounced "see moy," which sounds like "chamoy." Mexico reinvented chamoy as a sauce and candy with chiles, while Hawaii launched entire stores dedicated to crack seed made from different types of fruit.


    I see bottles of Chamoy seasoning at the supermarkets all the time.

    Might buy a bottle and give it a try one of these days.

    The Wikipedia article says Japanese Umeboshi. I say Chinese 話梅

    or Chinese 陈皮梅

    The 話梅 is extremely salty whereas the 陈皮梅 is kind of like an American prune. But much tastier. Much. ;-0

    Makes me salivate thinking of them. Haven't eaten them since I was a kid.

  12. Kobo Daishi said,

    July 12, 2017 @ 9:53 pm

    From the NPR article:

    She learned that the Cantonese name for crack seed is see mui, and it came to Hawaii with Chinese plantation workers in the 19th century. See mui is pronounced "see moy," which sounds like "chamoy."


    I wonder what the character for "see" is. For the life of me I can't think of any possibilities. I might check with the Sheik Cantonese site to see if any of the regulars of there know.

  13. julie lee said,

    July 12, 2017 @ 11:10 pm

    I was wondering whether the Chinese "mei hua" means "plum blossom" or "apricot blossom" and found this in Wikipedia:

    "Mei hua 梅花 Plum blossom
    Prunus mume is an Asian tree species classified in the Armeniaca section of the genus Prunus subgenus Prunus. Its common names include Chinese plum and Japanese apricot. The flower is usually called plum blossom. "(Wikipedia)

    I was interested because plum blossoms are a great favorite with Chinese traditional painters. Below (from Wikipedia):

    "The plum blossom is considered first among the ten great flowers of China, and together with the orchid, the bamboo, and the chrysanthemum, are ranked as "the four gentlemen" , and with the pine and bamboo called "the three friends of the cold winter" (that is, friends in difficult times).

  14. John Swindle said,

    July 13, 2017 @ 1:33 am

    Victor, thank you.

    @Kobo Daishi: "See mui" is 西梅,literally "western plum", but it means something like "dried plum."

  15. Ryan said,

    July 13, 2017 @ 3:39 am

    Preserved wife plum really doesn't make any more (or less) sense than pockedmarked old woman tofu. Although if I were the one naming the product for an English-speaking market, I would have left the "wife" part untranslated and named it "preserved laopo plum".

  16. Kobo Daishi said,

    July 13, 2017 @ 3:44 am

    Thank you John Swindle for that.

    I've since corroborated it with the Wikipedia entry for crack seed, where they've

    This type of snack is commonly referred to in Chinese language as see mui (西梅; [siː muːi]). The snack arrived to Hawaii with Cantonese immigrants in the 19th century, when they were brought to work in the plantations.


    I don't know how they got see from Cantonese sai1 for 西. And in my Taishanese 西 is THOIH.


  17. John Swindle said,

    July 13, 2017 @ 4:01 am

    Kobo Daishi, good point. I don't know.

  18. ajay said,

    July 13, 2017 @ 6:03 am

    I've seen whole grain mustard labelled as "Moutard A L'Ancienne/ Traditional Grainy Mustard" and it took a real effort not to read it as "Traditional Granny Mustard", translating "ancienne" as "old woman"…

  19. julie lee said,

    July 13, 2017 @ 9:36 am

    A correction: The information on plum blossom above came not from Wikipedia but from its Chinese counterpart, Weijibaike 維基百科。

  20. Victor Mair said,

    July 13, 2017 @ 9:37 am

    Thanks, everybody, for the wonderful discussion. I will follow it up with a separate post on làméi 臘梅 / 腊梅 (Chimonanthus fragrans / praecox) late this evening or early tomorrow morning.

  21. TK Mair said,

    July 13, 2017 @ 8:37 pm

    And of course not lost to you, but maybe not known to others reading this post, the character Mei is the character for your Chinese surname. Mei Weiheng. Phonetic for Mair, Victor! A real peach! (Intentionally translated Il-literaterally)

  22. Victor Mair said,

    July 14, 2017 @ 7:03 am

    Pure speculation on the part of Mandy Chan, a native speaker of Cantonese:

    話梅 in Cantonese? I'm not sure about the origin of the term — I've always thought of it as a kind of plum. Perhaps because it's so salty and sour that once you eat one, you'd produce so much saliva that you can cure 口乾 and you can resume talking non-stop????

  23. Kobo Daishi said,

    July 14, 2017 @ 10:27 am

    Isn't Mandy Chan thinking of the rather famous Chinese idiom 望梅止渴?

    The Guoyu Cidian put out by the Ministry of Education of the Republic of China (Taiwan) has as definition for 望梅止渴


    And here's a link to the story

    Apparently it's from 劉義慶's 世說新語 which was compiled and edited during the Liu Song Dynasty of the Southern and Northern Dynasties.

    There's even a quote from Victor on why 世說新語 isn't considered history but "minor talk" (xiao shuo. Don't know why they didn't include the characters for minor talk. I just hate that. Now I'll spend the whole day trying to figure what they could be. :)

  24. Kobo Daishi said,

    July 14, 2017 @ 10:56 am

    The blog I linked to above with the story behind 望梅止渴 has satisfy thirst by watching plums as translation for the idiom, but, the usual translation is quenching one's thirst by thinking of plums.

    The character 望 can mean look towards, gaze at or it can also mean hope for.

  25. leoboiko said,

    July 14, 2017 @ 1:20 pm

    @cameron: In maiden/mother/crone schemes, the mother/wife is the one supposed to be juicy and sexual. Think fertility figures or troubador married-lady erotics, not innocent-schoolgirl erotics.

    So mistress' plums are the hot mom's plums, and missus' plums are the crone plums. The one's missing is maiden's plums, which are clearly the fresh, natural ones.

    (I think the antispam ate my comment so I'm trying again.)

  26. Victor Mair said,

    July 15, 2017 @ 1:47 pm

    The Hong Kong Chinese Wikipedia gives two popular etymologies for waa2mui4 話梅:

    1. When people are chatting, they nibble / suck on "preserved plums" (salt-pickled green apricots) as a snack.

    2. Story tellers use them to keep their mouth moist when they are performing for a long time.

    Both of these explanations make sense to me and both fit with what Mandy Chan said above, though I tend to favor the second explanation because it is a more fixed, professional term and it matches with the term huàběn (Cant. waa2bun2) 話本 (lit. "story root"), i.e., "promptbooks" which storytellers consult during their sessions.

    The Wikipedia article provides a photograph that shows clearly the color and texture of waa2mui4 話梅, which I shall henceforth think of as "talk (inducing / facilitating) plums / apricots", quite a contrast with the qíngrén méi (Cant. cing4jan4 mui4) 情人梅 ("mistress plums / apricots") which are pictured in the o.p.

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