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Exploring Edamame: History, Health Benefits, and Recipes

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Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes, one ingredient at a time.

Edamame (green soy beans) are healthy and can be used in many creative recipes.

Edamame (green soy beans) are healthy and can be used in many creative recipes.

Are Edamame and Soy Beans the Same Thing?

The soybean plant originated in Asia, cultivated by the Chinese at least 7,000 years ago. It was dependable, prolific, filling, and a substantial source of nutrition. The beans became a staple throughout much of the region, gaining popularity with the spread of Buddhism. One of the eight tenets of the Buddhist belief is "right action," which includes that one does not harm living things. Buddhists adhere, therefore, to a vegetarian diet.

Though supremely nutritious soybeans are also very “beany” (fibrous and gas-producing). However the Chinese found several methods to tame the beast.

  • The beans could be cooked and soaked to create a milk that could then be coaxed into cheese-like curds. This is tofu.
  • They recognized that introducing microbes into a mash of the beans could create unique, tasty, savory flavors. This was the origin of soy sauce, miso, and tempeh.
  • And, they found that if the beans were harvested before they reached maturity they were a bit sweeter, more tender, less gassy, and not so “beany.” This, my friends, is edamame.
Edamame in the shell

Edamame in the shell

There is no record of when green soybeans were introduced to Japan, but the etymology of the word edamame is Japanese (eda means "beans" and mame means "branch"). In fact, according to the Japan Times:

"The habit of eating fresh green soybeans seems to have started in the mid Heian Period (794-1185). Records kept by the naizenshi, the Imperial court’s comestibles department, note the purchase of 'bunches of raw (fresh) soy beans.' Then, as now, green soybeans were usually sold on their stems, since they spoil so easily once picked."

Charles C. Georgeson was a professor of agriculture at the Tokyo Imperial University in Tokyo, and it was he who introduced the large-seed soybean to America. Unlike soy plants grown for cooking oil or livestock feed, edamame has been cultivated to be sweeter and plumper. William Morse of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of Forage Crop Investigations compared them to lima beans or butter beans (“Soy Beans in the Cotton Belt,” January 1915). He continued to promote the green soybean in more than 20 U.S. government publications. In 1934 several varieties were evaluated at state agricultural experiment stations.

Finally, in 1935 Dr. John Harvey Kellogg (yes, that Kellogg of Battle Creek, Michigan) began to experiment with canning green vegetable soybeans. During World War II they were grown in Victory Gardens in the Midwest, but when the war ended, interest in the vegetable all but disappeared.

But then in September 1980 . . .

The sushi “boom” in California begins when the very popular TV miniseries and epic drama Shogun, based on the novel by James Clavell, created a great interest in traditional Japanese culture among Americans. With the sushi, they drank Japanese beer and saké. In America, beer is usually served with peanuts. But, true to tradition, Japanese restaurants served edamamé, free of charge, with the beer. So the success of sushi, Japanese beers, Japanese saké, and edamamé, are all tied in together.

— William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi, “History of Edamame," SoyInfo Center 2009

Growing Soybeans

The soybean plant is a bush bean legume that grows best in warm weather and full sun. (Bush beans are compact; the other type of bean plant is vining and forms long tendrils that wind and cling to supporting poles). The seeds of soybeans should not be planted until soil temperatures are at least 60 degrees F. The stems, leaves, and pods of the plants are fuzzy, about two to four inches in length, each containing two to four seeds or beans. Loose, well-drained soil with organic matter is a necessity. Unlike other beans, the soybean seed should not be presoaked, and don't plant them with onions or garlic.

All of the beans mature at the same time. To harvest, uproot the entire plant and hang it upside-down to dry. Soybeans should never be eaten raw.

  • Planting time: 2 to 3 weeks after final frost
  • Depth for planting: 1 to 2 inches deep
  • Spacing: 2 to 4 inches apart in rows 24 to 30 inches apart
  • Soil pH: 6.0
  • Harvest: Reach maturity in about 100 days
Soybeans growing in the field (notice the fuzzy stems and pods)

Soybeans growing in the field (notice the fuzzy stems and pods)

Epic spinach edamame dip

Epic spinach edamame dip

Epic Spinach Edamame Dip

Tess is the "Blender Girl" and author of the Blender Girl Cookbook. She is dedicated to eating healthy whole foods without preservatives, like this spinach edamame dip. It's creamy and packed with flavor from fresh ingredients. Tahini provides a nutty toasty flavor, lemon adds tang, and red pepper flakes contribute a pop of heat (but not too much). It's a guilt-free, super-healthy, antioxidant-rich, nutrient-dense powerhouse.

Roasted edamame

Roasted edamame

Roasted Edamame

Roasting edamame creates a snack that's tasty and healthy. This guilt-free pleasure is low in calories but chock full of protein, fiber, and calcium.

Edamame-black bean salad

Edamame-black bean salad

Edamame Black Bean Salad

This refreshing edamame black bean salad is so easy to make and a much healthier option than potato salad at your summer cookout. It can also double as a salsa.

Chinese chicken salad

Chinese chicken salad

Chinese Chicken Salad

I love the versatility of this Chinese chicken salad. I don't care for romaine lettuce; chopped baby kale is a great (and healthy) substitute. You can add more crunch with diced cucumber, or contribute a touch of sweetness by including some mandarin orange segments.

Jessica cooked boneless skinless chicken breasts for this salad, but you could use leftover rotisserie chicken, leftover roast pork, leftover pulled pork, or even make this totally vegetarian with golden sauteed tofu or tempeh.

The magic of this dish is the vinaigrette full of Asian flavors from sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, ginger, and garlic.

Vegan poke bowl

Vegan poke bowl

Vegan Poke Bowl

Vegan poke sounds like an oxymoron, doesn't it? Thomas (creator of the blog Gastroplant) enjoys boldly flavored but totally plant-based recipes. He uses lots of imagination (and his photographs are absolutely stunning!).

In his brief biography he tells his readers:

"I lived for several months in Europe (Greece, then Germany) and a few years in China. Traveling around the world I’ve always appreciated the vibrancy of the experience. The sounds, sights, and smells combine to make travel very sensual. Cooking is a way to recreate some of that vibrancy and excitement."

His vegan poke bowl certainly lives up to those goals.

Sources

© 2020 Linda Lum

Comments

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on August 14, 2020:

Ms Dora, I've added edamame to the shopping list for this weekend (I place the order online and schedule a time for pickup--they bring the bags out and deposit them in the trunk of the car. No contact. I'll definitely be making another batch of that dip.

And, I'm also thinking about making teriyaki salmon and serving it over a bowl of quinoa with edamame and sliced avocado. It's supposed to hit 90 degrees on Sunday, and it's time for something cool to eat.

Stay safe dear one.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on August 14, 2020:

Thanks for the explanation. I usually say soy beans since it's easier to say than the other word. Thanks for the recipes. The dip seems to be worth a try.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on August 12, 2020:

MizB - Aha! Mom was right (LOL). Next week it's an article on whole grains but (shhh), don't tell anyone, OK?

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on August 12, 2020:

That's all right, Linda. I've gotten used to not being able to eat things I enjoy. At least I can pig out on corn. That we did enjoy when the crop was new. All the women canned many jars of corn, which we enjoyed through the winter. The rest of the crop was dried for the hogs.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on August 12, 2020:

Audrey, all-righty then. Let's get started. Which one will you try first?

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on August 12, 2020:

Flourish, I've never seen them in the fresh produce. You can find them in the frozen section either shelled or still in the pod.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on August 12, 2020:

Doris, I'm sorry that you can't enjoy this one. Next week will be something totally different, I promise. Your dad's comment about soy beans is what my mom always said about corn on the cob -- "it's pig food." I still don't enjoy corn like everyone else does.

Audrey Hunt from Idyllwild Ca. on August 11, 2020:

I want to make the Spinach Edamame Dip. It looks so good. My freezer has been the home of several packages of organic Edamame. There, the bags sit...I'm not crazy about this low-calorie snack but I need more protein so I'll try the dip.

Thanks for giving me the boost I need.

FlourishAnyway from USA on August 11, 2020:

Do they usually sell this fresh in grocery stores? Do people cook it like Lima beans (which I love)? Reading the comments below I think I will head over to eat at Ann’s house.

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on August 11, 2020:

Ho boy, Linda, more recipes that I can't enjoy. I learned the hard way that soy is an herbal substitute for estrogen, and I have estrogen-driven migraines. I might be able to sample a little of that delicious looking dip, but I wouldn't dare eat more than a tablespoon of it. I don't do soymilk either. In the 70s my sis and I loved to buy crunchy soy beans at the health food store. They were cheaper than peanuts and just as good, especially the barbecue flavor (not edamame, of course). My kids liked them, too.

Funny story, one day my dad and I were walking through a soybean field on my grandparents farm. The beans were getting ready to harvest and would be sold for cow feed. I asked my dad why we didn't eat the beans. He replied because they aren't fit for humans to eat, just cows. If he could just see us now.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on August 11, 2020:

Mary, I haven't heard from you for a while. I'm so happy you stopped by today. The dip is good, and so healthy.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on August 11, 2020:

Thanks for this exciting information on Edamame, my favorite snack, or an ingredient in a salad. What's new for me is the Edamame-Spinach dip. I will certainly check this out.

Ann Carr from SW England on August 11, 2020:

I grow our own runner beans, that's all I've ever tried and they're so easy. Next door has some too, so between us we have plenty! In fact, as ours are late in coming this year, we had a load from our neighbour this morning - lunch was therefore a pile of runner beans each, covered in butter - yummy!

I grow rhubarb, raspberries and gooseberries, as well as the basic herbs of rosemary, sage, thyme and mints. We have a new plum tree but that won't yield until next year.

Ann

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on August 11, 2020:

Bill, I write that part for you because I know you'll never eat anything from my table (unless it's chocolate or chicken, right?)

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on August 11, 2020:

Shauna, I'm not positive, but I would assume that they flower (without flowers how would one get the fruit?). As for romaine, it's OK in some things but I find it a little wimpy. I like my crunch. But, Bill doesn't care for it too much, so I usually buy romaine.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on August 11, 2020:

Eric, you're kidding me again, right? It's a vegan bowl with tofu. Poke is raw tuna, and I'm not going there. And, I don't have an article on sushi. I'll put it on my list but it will take a loooonnnnng time.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on August 11, 2020:

Thank you Pamela. If we ever get past this pandemic thing, one of the first places I'm returning to is my Asian market.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on August 11, 2020:

Ann, do you grow your own beans? I would love to do that (but we'd never keep the deer away).

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on August 11, 2020:

Um, no thanks, but a fascinating history. Obviously, being a picky eater, I appreciate the historical sections of these articles the most. I always find them interesting, so thank you!

Have a fabulous Tuesday, my friend.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on August 11, 2020:

Linda, it sounds like edamame would do well in Florida. It's most always warm here and our soil is loose and sandy. I like that it's a bush bean. The vining types can get out of control. Do they flower?

Tell me, why don't you like romaine?

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on August 11, 2020:

Linda I have decided that as I get older I do not get hurt more, I just have more time to whine about it.

OK now that poke bowl idea is awesome. What kind of meat would you add?

Could you direct me to your article(s) on Sushi?

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on August 11, 2020:

These dishes you displayed look delicious. I like the beans and it is nice to learn a little bit more about them. Thanks Linda for another good article.

Ann Carr from SW England on August 11, 2020:

Very interesting, Linda, and so versatile!

I love just about all beans (except broad beans - too bitter), especially butter beans.

Good advice about harvesting etc too!

Ann

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on August 10, 2020:

Hey Eric, have you forgotten how old you are? (OK, you're still younger than me, but seriously). Perhaps now your knee is giving you a reminder?

Take care of yourself dear friend.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on August 10, 2020:

Hey I love them as beer nuts as I nurse my ginger ale. But count me in on that dip. Oh boy. I had no idea these were soybean type stuff.

I may be back for more recipes but now I have to elevate and ice my knee. The boy is getting some moves on in basketball. hihihi