OSAKA — Cows at the Harano stock farm begin to drool at the sight of “ume,” the plums used to make the fruity liqueur.

As the brown, ripened plums are dropped into their feed, the cows compete with each other to eat them. “They really seem to like the plums, don’t they?” said Shoji Harano, who runs the stock farm in Sakai, Osaka Prefecture.

For about 10 years, the 55-year-old has been raising his beef cattle on plums added to supplement the regular feed, which includes barley.

He ships about 40 to 50 head of cattle a year but hopes he and other breeders increase the number to 500 some day so “ume beef” becomes available to beef lovers.

Ume beef refers to Japanese cattle and “hybrid” cows fattened up without receiving antibiotics and by eating more than 1 kg of pickled ume per day, beginning more than six months before their shipment.

It is called “phantom meat” because the meat that reaches the market comes from only 200 of the animals and is not available at ordinary meat shops. Only Harada and another stock breeder in Osaka Prefecture raise cows with pickled ume that is rich in citric acid. Several farm households also raise beef cows in nearby Hyogo and Mie prefectures.

A synergistic effect resulting from citric acid and about 12 percent alcohol in the pickled plums helps ease the stress of the cows and enhances their flesh.

“They’re not intoxicated” by the alcohol contained in the plums, Harano said. “They also stopped making noises when strangers come to the barn. They’re calm.”

Harano obtains plums from ume liqueur maker Choya Umeshu Co. of Habikino, Osaka. The supply of the plums originally started when Choya and an Osaka prefectural research agency sounded out local livestock breeders about recycling residual pickled ume.

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