Soybean and edamame (green soybeans) are the same vegetable, but the two names refer to their respective harvest periods.
- What is Edamame beans?
- Nutritional Value of Edamame (Health Benefits)
- Edamame – A Calorie-Efficient, Super Healthy Food
- How to eat Edamame?
- How to cook Edamame?
- Spicy Edamame Recipe
- Edamame Rice Recipe
What is Edamame beans?
Some records show that people ate boiled soft green soybeans as early as the Heian era (794 – 1185). Today, with the worldwide popularity of Japanese cuisine, the term “edamame” has become an international word, being a standard part of English and Spanish vocabulary.
The soybean has played an important role in the Japanese diet for many years. Of the five grains eaten in Japan, it’s the third most popular by consumption after rice and barley. During its long history, Japan has given birth to a number of soybean-based foods, such as miso (bean paste), soy sauce, tofu, natto (fermented soybeans), yuba (bean-curd skin), and other traditional must-haves for Japanese dishes.
It is said that the soybean has its roots in the northeastern region of China and the Amur River basin. The original strain of soybean is the wild tsurumame (Glycine soja), which was first cultivated 5,000 years ago. Soybeans were brought to Europe in the eighteenth century and to the United States in the nineteenth century. The United States is currently the largest soybean producer, and Japan is the number-one consumer. The majority of soybeans consumed in Japan are imported from other nations, which makes Japan the number-one soybean importer in the world.
Japan grows more than 300 varieties of soybeans, but the demand far exceeds production. Among the domestically produced soybeans, most of the summer crop-beans seeded in April or May are harvested while still soft and young for consumption as edamame. Many soybean varieties are grown specifically for edamame, and they’re all of the highest quality. Top brands of edamame are as follows: “Kuro edamame,” which is grown in the Tanba Sasayama region of Hyogo; “Kurosaki chamame,” from Niigata; “Dada chamame,” produced in the Tsuruoka region of Yamagata; and “Tengu-jirushi edamame” from Gunma, among others.
The outdoor cultivation of edamame begins with the preparation of the field. Topsoil is removed to a depth of 12 inches and an ample amount of compost is laid down. Next, the soil is put back and ridges 47 inches wide and 8 inches high are made. Two lines of T-tape for drip irrigation are then installed and thin black mulching film is placed over the soil. This film keeps the soil warm and prevents the growth of weeds.
Plants of the legume family are the breeding ground for the leguminous bacteria (bacteroid) that grow on the roots and live symbiotically with the plants. The leguminous bacteria receive their nutrient-sugar from the plant and in return contribute fertilizing ammonium nitrate to the plant (via nitrogen fixation). This symbiotic relationship is common in the plant world, and is taught in any biology textbook. Apparently, it is possible to grow crops without fertilizer by spraying leguminous bacteria over the field.
The more we learn about the function of leguminous bacteria, the more we are convinced that soybeans can be grown without fertilizer. In reality, though, it isn’t quite so simple.
The amount of fertilizer needed to grow highly nutritious edamame is greater than you would think. So, the challenge isn’t how effective the function of the leguminous bacteria is. Instead, it’s the sheer amount of fertilizer needed, which makes fertilizer-free soybean cultivation difficult. Organic farmers who refuse to use chemical fertilizers need abundant compost. Since soybeans use up all the fertilizer in a field after one season and do not permit continuous cropping, it’s sometimes necessary to rotate soybean plantings by maintaining a minimum of three years in between crops.
The timing of seeding has a direct impact on the growth of edamame. Because edamame is harvested after a fairly short period of time, seeding is preferably timed to spread the harvest period over many months. However, that’s more easily said than done. Seeds are planted in mid-May first, followed by four rounds of seeding 10 days apart.
This pattern of seeding spread out over five rounds allows for a one-month harvesting period. If you miss this seeding window, the natural growth cycle of the soybean is tipped and they won’t grow properly. On both sides of each T-tape, four lines of holes are made at 12-inch intervals where one seed is planted in each hole. Within as little as a week, a strong, thick seed leaf comes forth.
Many plants in the legume family need a lot of water to grow, so irrigation and drain- age are two key points of managing their cultivation. Thick foliage grows under the summer sun. Soon you’ll see many small flowers blooming amid the shadows of the leaves. The flowers turn into small fruits, which quickly grow and assume the rounded shape of the bean. By August, their height (length) is as much as 3.2 feet. Once the leaves have partly turned yellow it’s time to harvest. At that time, the stalk is cut just below the first bean and the leaves are removed one by one. It’s cumbersome work, making the beans “on the stalk.” However by shipping the beans that way they will neither grow nor die, so they’ll stay reasonably fresh. Freshness is paramount for delicious edamame.
Nutritional Value of Edamame (Health Benefits)
Everyone knows that summer is the best season to eat edamame. Edamame is basically a prematurely harvested soybean, so quite interestingly it has the nutritional characteristics of a bean as well as a vegetable. In particular, edamame is a better source of β carotene and vitamin C than soybean. Edamame contains less protein, fat, and carbohydrates than a mature soybean, but an edamame supplies nearly the same amounts of other vitamins and minerals as a soybean.
Edamame contains protein, vitamin B1, B2, calcium, potassium, pantothenic acid, folic acid, and zinc, which promote the body’s metabolism, convert sugar into energy, prevent obesity, relieve fatigue, support gallbladder function, prevent summer lethargy, demonstrate antioxidant action, and give us energy and stamina. These excellent health benefits make edamame a nutritious appetizer and a great accompaniment to beer or sake.
One key feature of organic farming is that the innate nutritional value of the crop is fully realized. So, you don’t want to miss a bag of organic fresh edamame when you see one. You shouldn’t worry when the edamame season is gone. You can always enjoy frozen edamame. In fact, frozen edamame is available throughout the year.
Edamame – A Calorie-Efficient, Super Healthy Food
In Japan, edamame had always been loved as an appetizer or tapas to go with your drink. However in the late 90’s when the nutritional value became widely recognized, it became a popular dietary food. With low calories and high nutritional value, edamame became the epitome of “healthy dietary food”. Take a look at the numbers – For every 100 grams of cooked edamame (about 50 edamame beans), you’ll get 436 mg of potassium, 11 grams of protein, and about 5 grams of fiber for only 122 calories! It is very low on sugar and carbohydrates – 2.2 grams and 10 grams respectively, so it will help fill your stomach while giving you necessary nutrients. In Japan, nutritionists recommend people to eat 60-80 grams of edamame between meals when you feel hungry. Low calorie in-between-meals will limit your appetite for the big meals, as well as help boost metabolism.
But that’s not all. Ever wonder why you go to some Izakaya restaurants (Japanese tavern) and they give you edamame to begin your meal? Edamame contains a special amino acid called Methionine, which helps your body break down proteins and sugars. So when you drink alcoholic beverages, the pairing of edamame will help break down the alcohol, reducing your body’s chance of absorbing the alcohol (causing a beer belly). Also, the high potassium content in edamame works as an anti-inflammatory to reduce swelling.
The ideal amount of calorie intake for an adult female is 1800 calories per day, and 2000 for male. An average lunch in the United States tend to be between 800 to 1200 calories, so it’s always great to substitute a part of your meal with low-calorie/high-nutrient food like edamame. In Japan, it is not surprising to see people substitute rice for edamame (as rice is high in carbohydrates and sugar content).
How to eat Edamame?
Edamame can be found raw (in the U.S., fresh edamame is available only during harvest season in August), frozen, or dried. Most likely in the United States you’ll be able to find edamame in a frozen pack at your local Japanese supermarket.
Frozen edamame has been pre-boiled, ready to eat by heating them up or re-boiling them. There are salted ones and unsalted ones so be sure to check before buying. Because they are pre-boiled, you can simply put a bag of frozen edamame in your lunch-pack and it will be ready to eat by lunch when it thaws out.
Dried edamame, like any other dried vegetables, can be consumed as is. It is great for a snack. Because they have been dried, you can soak the dried edamame beans in water overnight, and they become soft. Then, you can use these beans in various dishes like salads, stir-fried dishes, and more! We discussed earlier about substituting edamame for rice, but it’s also great to mix the two. After steaming your rice, simply mix boiled edamame (remove the beans from the skin) with the rice. This way you can enjoy rice while eating less of it (lower calories!).
If you shop at Japanese supermarkets, you’ll most likely find frozen edamame with stems/skin. If you like the Izakaya-style way of eating edamame, you should get this type. If you want to use them for cooking, you’ll find frozen edamame without the skin or dried edamame at your local supermarket.
Chamame – Some restaurants may carry chamame instead of edamame. These are type of edamame that has a brownish color to the beans. They have a stronger sweeter scent, are higher in sugar content and amino acids. They too are great to eat so compare and find out which mame fits you!
How to cook Edamame?
In the U.S., fresh edamame is available only in August when the legume plant is in season, and Nijiya Farm is the only supplier of organically grown edamame. Nijiya’s high quality edamame is comparable to any of the premium brands produced in Japan. Because the edamame harvest season is short, you won’t see fresh edamame for sale for too long, so you won’t want to miss the opportunity to enjoy Nijiya’s edamame.
Various ways to boil edamame are featured in cook books and food magazines. We at Nijiya, however, recommend a simple boiling method that guarantees a delicious taste.
- Remove the edamame from the stalk.
- Place the edamame in a pot and pour in just enough water to cover the beans.
- Bring to a boil over high heat. Boil for two minutes and then drain in a colander.
- Sprinkle approximately 3% of salt to the total volume of edamame. Shake the edamame in the colander and let the beans cool.
You won’t go wrong with this method, because the beans are cooked slowly and allowed to cool gently in the colander. Since the only addition is a small amount of salt, this cooking method is foolproof. You can cook delicious edamame this way, no matter how small the beans are or even after they’ve turned, slightly yellowish.
Spicy Edamame Recipe
Ingredients (Serves 4)
- 10 oz. frozen edamame in pod
- 4 cups water
- 1/2 Tbsp. salt
- 1 Tbsp. soy sauce
- 1 Tbsp. sesame Oil
- 1/2 Tbsp. grated garlic or garlic paste
- 1/3 Tbsp. shichimi (Japanese chili pepper)
- Bring 4 cups water to a boil in medium pan. Add salt and frozen edamame and return to a boil and cook about 1 min. Drain.
- Heat sesame oil and grated garlic in frying pan.
- Add boiled edamame and mix well with medium heat. Add soy sauce and Shichimi them turn off the heat.
Edamame Rice Recipe
Ingredients (Serves 4)
- 2 cups rice
- 2 umeboshi (dried plum)
- 40g (1.41oz) chirimenjako (dried young sardines)
- 150g (5.29oz) edamame (green soybeans)
- 2 cups water
- 1 sheet kombu
- 2 tbsp vinegar
- Pinch of salt
- Wash rice, pour it into a straining basket, and set aside for 30 minutes.
- Boil the edamame, and peel off the thin skin. Remove the seed from the umeboshi and slice into small pieces.
- Mix together the kombu dashi broth with vinegar and season with salt.
- Add the water, chirimenjako, umeboshi, and dashi broth into the rice cooker and cook.
- Once it’s done cooking, add the edamame, mix it together, and serve it in a bowl.