Edamame: What Is This Bean? History, Benefits, Cooking Tips
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If you’ve ever visited a traditional Japanese sushi restaurant, there’s a good chance that you have squeezed out some edamame beans from the pods.
Edamame is a soybean picked young and green. Compared to mature soybeans, which are hard and dry, edamame beans are soft and edible even without cooking. It’s primarily used in east Asian cuisines, served as a side dish in its pod.
This article is my complete guide on edamame so let’s examine the history, benefits, and more.
Those green pods (and the beans inside) are called edamame and are actually immature soybean pods.
Edamame is nutritious, but this is not the only reason you see it listed on popular Japanese food blogs and menus.
It is because edamame is delicious, and most likely, one of the most liked healthy snacks in the world.
If you find edamame interesting, stay here because we will walk through everything you need to know about it.
In the end, you won’t only be able to whip up some delicious dishes using edamame but also be able to impress your food-savvy friends with all the extra information.
So let’s start with a detailed answer to the fundamental question:
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What is edamame?
Though the pod is not edible, it gives the beans a unique flavor that refines their taste.
Edamame is often served as an appetizer in most Japanese sushi restaurants, where you have to squeeze out the beans from the pods with your teeth.
When we stray from traditional Japanese cuisine, edamame becomes more than just an appetizer.
For example, you can eat edamame as a snack and add it to your favorite fried rice and salads when hulled.
The hulled edamame is also known as “mukimame” in Japan.
It is also a great food if you’re on a vegetarian diet.
Given that edamame has all that extra protein your body needs, you can eat it as an effective meat substitute for a well-balanced diet.
In fact, before the Meiji era (1868-1912), when eating beef was banned in Japan, people derived most of their protein requirements from soybean and fish.
Edamame also counts as one of the most nutritiously rich vegetables, with all the amino acids, dietary fiber, and minerals required for the human body.
Not to mention its medical significance.
You will find edamame in Japanese restaurants served as an appetizer all year.
However, the experience is incomplete without a cold beer whenever it is eaten as a snack.
What does edamame mean?
Edamame is a Japanese term made of two words, eda (枝), which means branch, and mame (豆), which means bean.
The name is given because edamame is attached to the stem when sold.
Some sources also suggest that edamame was named so because of how it was cooked back in the day.
Since it was a common street food in Japan a while ago, the chefs cooked it attached to the branches. This would make it comfortable to eat, whether walking or standing.
Though the word appeared in Japanese literature in the 1630s, its origin is considered more ancient.
The term “edamame” was also mentioned in a note belonging to Chinese literature from 1275AD.
However, given that soybeans have been cultivated and eaten for more than 2000 years, the name is likely to be even older than that.
What does edamame taste like?
Edamame has a very subtle sweet taste, almost similar to peas.
However, where peas lean more on the sweeter side, edamame replaces that extra sweetness with hints of nuttiness.
When salted, you also get hints of umami, which is now considered the “5th taste,” along with sweet, sour, bitter, and salty.
However, it is hardly noticeable in edamame, unlike other soy products.
Texture-wise, edamame is relatively firm compared to common peas but feels very buttery when bitten.
The texture can differ depending on the processing and preparation of the beans.
How to cook edamame?
You can cook edamame in many different ways, including boiling, steaming, microwaving, and pan-frying.
Following is a brief overview of all the methods you can use to cook soybean:
- Boiling: Add fresh edamame to a pot of salted water and keep it boiling for about 5-6 minutes or until the beans inside the pods are soft.
- Steaming: Add about an inch of water to a pot and bring it to a boil. Put the edamame in a steaming basket or steam tray above the boiling water and cover the pot for about 5-10 minutes. The edamame should cook perfectly.
- Microwaving: Place the edamame in a microwave bowl and sprinkle the pods with water. Cook the beans in the microwave for about 3 minutes, and check them in one-minute increments to see whether it is cooked.
- Stir-frying: Cook the edamame over medium heat in a hot frying pan until the pods are charred lightly on each side for a smoky taste. When the pods are tender enough, it means they are cooked perfectly.
When cooked, you can season the edamame with any of your favorite seasonings for extra flavors, including sea salt, sesame seeds, or, my favorite among all, red pepper flakes.
If you want to make your experience more interesting, get the seeds out of the pods and toss them in any of your favorite dishes.
I like adding them to stir-fries, pasta, and fried rice for an extra protein kick.
However, if going hot is not much of your thing, you can make edamame seeds into a paste and make it into a northeastern Japanese staple dessert, Zunda mochi.
How to eat edamame?
Edamame is one of those few things you can prepare and eat in several different ways, and it will taste delicious regardless.
If you are sitting in a sushi restaurant in a traditional Japanese setting, you are likely to be served edamame with pods.
What you will need to do is to squeeze out beans from the pods straight into your mouth.
Though it’s not all that fancy, it makes the experience much more fun.
You can also use chopsticks if you aren’t comfortable eating edamame with your hands, but you have to be really good with chopsticks for that.
You can also eat it the same way in your home by boiling or microwaving the edamame and topping the pods with any seasonings of your choice for extra flavors.
It’s an enjoyable and nutritious snack to have around occasionally.
If you want to get a little fancy, you may need to buy shelled edamame.
Though it will cost you a little more than the ones with pods, you can add these beans to just about anything, from stir-fries to your favorite salads and anything in between.
Or, if you like to get adventurous with your food, you can also mash the edamame into a puree and add it as a spread on your favorite sandwich or make it into a delicious ice cream.
The possibilities are endless.
Also read: Best substitute for edamame | Top 10 alternatives for this bean
Origin and history of edamame
According to historical records, edamame has been cultivated in China from ancient times, dating back to about 5000 years.
However, there’s a possibility that the beans might have been grown in native China long before.
An archaeological report suggests a close relationship between the larger beans used in the Zhou dynasty, about 2000 years ago, and the small beans that date back to about 9000 years.
This suggests that edamame, or soybean in general, was cultivated as soon as the very first villages were established in northern China.
However, how people shifted from smaller to larger beans remains a mystery.
For the most part in history, edamame, or soybean in general, has been used for its medicinal and nutritional significance and taste.
However, as time progressed, edamame became popular among the common folk for its taste, becoming one of the most like foods in both Chinese and Japanese cuisine.
In the west, edamame first appeared in 1855. It came to the limelight almost a century later when it was mentioned in a book by C. V. Piper and Joseph W. Morse.
In the book, the edamame was shown as “beans eaten out of open shell pods.”
The book also mentioned some of the recipes we know in the Western world today, which got people curious about this new type of vegetable, making it popular as well.
Today, edamame is one of the favorite go-to foods of Japanese food lovers worldwide, and they cook it in myriad ways to satisfy their craving for deliciously light food.
Edamame vs. soybean: what’s the difference?
Technically, edamame and soybean are the same things. The only difference between them is the level of maturity at the time when the beans are harvested and how they are cooked and served.
Edamame is harvested when the plant is still young, ideally 75 to 100 days after planting, a week or two before the beans reach full maturity.
The beans are young, soft, green, and delicious at this stage. The only drawback is that the beans love most of their nutritional value from being harvested young.
On the other hand, soybean is used for beans that have grown to full maturity at the time of harvest. They are hard, dry, and light cream in color.
These are relatively cheaper to buy but have more nutritional value than edamame.
Plus, since they are produced on a large scale, you will find them readily available almost everywhere.
Popular seasonings for edamame
Although edamame is popularly seasoned with salt in Japan, there are no restrictions on what does and what doesn’t go well with it.
You can season edamame with anything as long as it feels good on your tastebuds.
I like to season it with a mixture of garlic powder, chili powder, and salt to give it a spicy kick.
When I’m in the mood for something more interesting, I usually add a zest of lemon to the seasoning for extra flavor.
Some people also like to season it with chopped cilantro and kosher salt mixed with a zest of lime for a more “herbacious” touch.
However, I would leave that to your choice, as most people don’t like cilantro.
There are also other adventurous combinations of seasonings you could try with edamame. Still, the ones above… are the absolute classics!
Where to get edamame?
You can eat edamame in your favorite izakaya and sushi restaurants as an appetizer or buy it from your nearest supermarket and prepare it at home.
It is generally readily available everywhere and should be easy to find.
However, if you still cannot find ir, go to your nearest Asian market. If that’s not possible either, you can buy them from Amazon.
However, you will mostly find roasted edamame beans there, which are only suitable if you’re looking for a quick snack.
We would highly recommend trying out these substitutes if you can find edamame.
Is edamame healthy?
Apart from being tasteful, edamame is one of the healthiest foods available. Following is a detailed account of its nutritional profile and overall health benefits:
A single cup of cooked edamame contains:
- 113-gram water
- 224 calories
- 12.1-gram lipids
- 13.8 grams carbohydrates
- 8 grams fiber
- 3.38 grams sugar
- 37% of protein (as per DV)
- 10% calcium (as per DV)
- 20% iron (as per DV)
- 25% magnesium (as per DV)
- 26% phosphorus (as per DV)
- 19% potassium (as per DV)
- 115% folate (as per DV)
- 56% vitamin K1 (as per DV)
- 20% thiamine (as per DV)
- 14% riboflavin (as per DV)
- 27% copper (as per DV)
Health benefits of edamame
Given the overall nutritional profile, you get the following benefits by consuming a cup of edamame daily:
Lower cholesterol levels
Research suggests that people who eat 25 grams of soy protein daily are associated with lowering LDL levels in the blood, resulting in low chances of developing heart diseases.
Since edamame is rich in soy protein and antioxidants, eating it regularly can improve your blood lipid profile and lower cholesterol levels, resulting in a potentially lower risk of developing heart diseases.
Maintained blood sugar level
Eating a high-carb diet can significantly increase your blood sugar levels, manifesting in chronic diseases like type II diabetes and other associated problems, like kidney failure, neuropathy, and retinopathy.
As edamame sits very low on the glycemic index, it is suitable for people who want to stay on a low-sugar diet and those who have already developed type II diabetes.
Maintained protein levels
When you are on a vegan diet, getting the optimal amount of protein can really be a problem.
Guess what? Edamame, and beans in general, save you from this problem.
A cup of edamame contains about 18.1 grams of protein per serving, which accounts for 37% of the total protein intake required daily.
It’s a high-quality protein source that packs all the essential amino acids your body needs.
Maintained heart health
Edamame is a rich source of folate.
Folate is associated with breaking down homocysteine amino acids, which are responsible for damaging the inner walls of arteries, ultimately leading to heart attack and stroke.
With enough folate in your blood, your stroke or heart disease risk is significantly lower. On the other hand, you will also have beautiful nails.
A sure win-win, isn’t it?
Better blood clotting
Vitamin K is associated with better blood clotting ability, which, in turn, promotes healthy metabolism and regulates overall calcium levels in the body.
As it happens, edamame is full of it. A single cup of edamame covers about 45% of your daily vitamin K requirement.
However, eating it with some olive oil is always a good idea to reap its full benefits. It helps the body absorb and metabolize the vitamin more effectively.
Are there any harmful effects of eating edamame?
While generally healthy food, edamame also gets a bad rep for certain problems, given as under:
As you know, edamame is a soy product almost notorious among health-conscious circles due to its hormone-disruptive effects.
It contains phytoestrogens, which are compounds that basically mimic the activity of estrogens.
Though a moderate amount of edamame might not have any potential side effects on your health, individuals on treatment for hormone-related cancers or thyroid treatment should talk to their doctor before incorporating it into their diet.
Edamame can be genetically modified
If you reside in the US, most of the edamame you will find is genetically modified. In fact, soy is one of the biggest GMO crops grown in the US.
If that bothers you, you should look for a certified organic food label before buying your pack of edamame.
Edamame is a healthy, delicious, and versatile addition to your diet.
These small green soybeans can be boiled or steamed in minutes and make a great side dish or snack.
Edamame is also high in protein and fiber, making it a perfect choice for vegetarians and meat-eaters alike.
Have you ever tried edamame? If not, now might be the time to grab a pack and add another delicious food to your healthy diet plan.
Next, learn about the 2 Important Reasons to Use Soy Bean Vegetable Oil for Teppanyaki
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Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.