Real Food Encyclopedia | Edamame

In case you didn’t know: edamame are immature soybeans (aka, “soya beans”), the very same soybeans that produce so-called “vegetable” oil, tofu, soy sauce, tempeh and a myriad of other culinary and industrial products.

Soybeans are thought to be native to China, where they have been cultivated for millennia, but recent data shows that there may have been several points of domestication in East Asia (including Northern China, Japan and Korea), some dating back as far as 5,500 years ago. According to researchers at Washington State University, the first written record of edamame comes from China, around 200 BCE; the beans were apparently used medicinally. It is thought that the Chinese introduced edamame to Japan, where the vegetable became, and remains, quite popular.

Although soybean cultivation was documented as early as the late 18th century in the US, University of Illinois researchers note that the type of soybean first grown here was probably for grain; it wasn’t until 1856 that the use of edamame (“green vegetable soybean”) was first documented in the US.

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Fun Facts about Edamame:

What to Look for When Buying Edamame

Edamame pods are large, containing between two and four beans each, with a hairy exterior. The seeds inside the pod range from an almost neon-green to deep forest green to black-green (so-called “black” edamame).

Fresh edamame pods should be firm, plump and bright green. Yellowing or browning pods are a sign that the beans inside have started to mature; at this point, the seeds become starchy and much less sweet, so take a pass. Also pass on limp, mushy or bean pods with black spots.

Sustainability of Edamame

Pesticides and Edamame

While there is limited negative environmental impact for green soybeans (edamame), soy in general has major issues. According to the USDA, in 2012, 93 percent of all soy acreage planted in the U.S. was genetically engineered (GE) to be herbicide-tolerant (HT), up from only 17 percent in 1997. HT soybean plants, developed by the agricultural giant Monsanto, are resistant to herbicides that are used to control weeds – namely Roundup (glyphosate), an herbicide originally developed by Monsanto. Unfortunately, the increased use of glyphosate has resulted in “superweeds” resistant to the herbicide, in some cases necessitating the use of different herbicides and mechanical tilling.

If you’re concerned about these issues, pick up edamame from your local farmer instead (and ask about his/her growing methods), or try growing your own. They are an easy plant to add to any backyard garden plot.

Edamame Seasonality

Fresh edamame are typically available in late summer through early fall.

Edamame Geography

The US, Brazil, Argentina and China are the top worldwide producers of soybeans.

Eating Edamame

Storing Edamame

Try to cook fresh edamame within a day or two of purchase; the longer they are stored, the starchier they tend to become. As a quick preservation technique, cook up a big batch and store them in the fridge for snacking and to use in recipes; they will keep for up to a week this way.

Cooking with Edamame

Pro tip: Here’s a quick little video that shows you how to shell fresh edamame: rip it, zip it and open it!

You’ve probably been to a sushi joint where edamame are served up whole, in the pod, with a sprinkling of course salt over top and maybe a lemon wedge. In Japan, edamame steamed or boiled in their pods are commonly served at izakayas, as a snack to go with beer. To prepare this way at home, simply toss the whole pods in the microwave, with a little water and salt, to steam them until the seeds can be easily popped out of the pods. (Compost the pods; they are too tough and fibrous to eat.) For a little more flavor, add in some other elements, such as sriracha or chopped peanuts.

You can add cooked edamame seeds into just about everything; they are fantastic added to stir fries and fried rice (and add extra protein, to boot), tossed into frittatas and pasta dishes and combined with grains like quinoa and faro. I also like to sub edamame for lima beans in succotash to use up all of that late season corn. Edamame seeds can also be roasted and wok-charred.

In Japan, edamame are even made into a sweetened paste for a dessert called zunda mochi. Why not try edamame ice cream to cool off during summer?

Preserving Edamame

Edamame freeze beautifully, either shelled or whole in their pods. You can also pickle edamame seeds, a wonderful addition to salads or grain bowls.

Edamame Nutrition

Edamame are loaded with nutritional goodness. One cup of the veggie provides a whopping 34 percent of your daily protein needs. The beans are also exceptionally high in folate, manganese and Vitamin K, and are a great source of iron, magnesium, thiamin, phosphorous, potassium and copper. They are even decent sources of calcium and Vitamin C, and are positively packed with fiber. Edamame are also rich in plant sterols, which can help lower cholesterol.