Fuzzy green edamame pods may not look particularly tempting when they come to the table. But these beans are packed with nutrients, and are delicious in a huge variety of dishes.
Everything you need to know about Edamame Beans
Chances are, if you’ve ever been to a sushi train, you’ve come across edamame before – the small, fuzzy green beans sitting on the conveyor belt amongst all the California rolls and sashimi plates. But if you’ve never given them a try, you’re missing out; these soybeans make a super snack.
DID YOU KNOW?
Widely eaten all around the world, soybeans come to our plates in many guises. However, the mature, ripe pods and beans can’t be consumed without processing to gain the exceptional nutritional value they hold. So, as a solution, the beans are harvested at about 80 per cent maturity, and these are the edamame you see at Japanese restaurants.
Edamame are often referred to as green soybeans – or, in China, mao dou (literally, ‘fur peas’). But while the term ‘edamame’ only appeared in the Oxford English Dictionary in 2003, the beans have been cooked and eaten as a snack food in many Asian countries for thousands of years.
Pronounced eh-dah-mah-meh – which in Japanese means ‘beans on branches’ – they are a variety of the common soybean, Glycine max. The two or three edible edamame beans are contained in a small pod – which, although indigestible, and very, very tough to eat, is not considered toxic. The inner bean, on the other hand, is toxic if eaten raw, and can have an alarming effect on the human digestive system.
Soybeans are highly nutritious, and they often become a cornerstone of plant-based diets thanks to their high protein levels – indeed, about 15 per cent of the bean is protein. They also contain all nine of the essential amino acids, and are one of the only vegetables to do so. The beans are rich in polyunsaturated oils, too, including omega-3 and omega-6 chains.
They also contain an abundance of vitamins such as K, A, and folate, and are rich in calcium, manganese and iron. They are very high in fibre as well, however not all is digestible.
There can be too much of a good thing, though, as soybeans also contain phytic acid, which can cause inhibitors in your digestive system that prevent the uptake of nutrients. They also have oxalates, which can be irritating to the mucous membranes in the digestive tract, and can even cause long-term irritation to some. Like anything, moderation is the key.
HOW TO BUY
Edamame are usually only available fresh in Asian specialty stores during the spring season. They will only last up to three days once picked, and are best eaten on the day of picking – as the texture and quality of the oil will break down quickly with oxidation. Commercially grown edamame are blanched and then snap frozen at the source, similar to the production of frozen peas. As a result, you will find edamame are readily available frozen, either in or out of their pods.
HOW TO GROW
Soybeans grow in bunches on long stems, similar to other bush beans such as broad or haricot beans. The plants grow tall – up to six feet high in some cases – and can take a long time to grow if they’re planted in the cooler months of the year. Plant in late spring in a sunny spot for best results.
Like other legumes, the plants are nitrogen fixing, which means the roots generate nodules of nitrogen. When the plant has finished fruiting and dies off, the nitrogen can be dug back into the soil, which is very helpful to keep the soil healthy.
HOW TO STORE
Fresh, immature pods need to be chilled or they won’t enjoy a very long life. Simply keep them in a container in the fridge – or they can be frozen for up to three months, for long-term storage. If freezing beans from fresh, it is essential to blanch the whole pod, and then re-cook once thawed.
Edamame beans can also be blanched, pickled in a vinegar and salt solution, and then kept bottled in sealed jars for longer-term storage. Pickled beans can be used in salads or poké bowls, or eaten as snacks.
If you find any brown beans in a pod it means they have gone too far, and are not the immature beans that are desirable or consumable.
To reduce spoilage, keep the fresh beans in the freezer and remove only what is needed for your recipe – leave the rest frozen. The outer casing of the bean seed can be composted easily. To get edamame beans to market, plastic packaging has been deemed essential. Dispose of or recycle the plastic wisely.
COOKING WITH EDAMAME
Any soybean must be cooked before consumption, as all raw soy protein is considered poisonous.
Cook whole edamame pods in boiling salted water for six to eight minutes, or until tender. The pods can also be steamed or microwaved, if you prefer. The beans can then be extracted from the pods after cooking.
Shelled edamame are best steamed over 5cm of water for 10 minutes, and then refreshed in ice-cold water to keep their bright green colour. Avoid quick- frying edamame in stir-fries, as this won’t cook out the toxins enough.
To eat freshly cooked edamame, the pods can be slit open or ripped open with teeth, and the beans inside are simply popped out into the mouth. In Japan and China, edamame are often served with a generous garnish of salt and accompanying beer – similar to the way we eat roasted peanuts.
To determine if edamame beans are properly cooked, squash one between your fingers. The flesh should break apart and flatten out quite easily. If it doesn’t, it needs to be cooked longer. Fortunately, overcooking edamame isn’t normally a problem – as can be the case with other types of beans that tend to deteriorate to a sludge if boiled too long.