Edamame (eh-dah-MAH-meh) is the Japanese name for green, immature soybeans. But while the Japanese may claim the name, they certainly can’t claim the bean. Soybeans have been cultivated in China since at least 3000 BCE, where they’re revered as one of the “five sacred grains.”
“Sacred” seems appropriate, because, nutritionally speaking, soybeans are nothing short of a miracle. The soybean is 35 percent protein, far outstripping anything else in the plant world. It’s rich in heart-healthy isoflavones. And according to nutritionists, a half-cup of shelled edamame contains as much fiber as four slices of whole-wheat bread, no cholesterol and no saturated fat.
Since mature dried soybeans remain hard and bitter even after long cooking, Westerners pretty much snubbed them until modern science discovered their extraordinary nutritional value. Today some 75 percent of the total world production comes from the United States.
Although they’re in season from late July to September, they’re available in the freezer section year-round. Use them in soups and casseroles. If you’re lucky enough to find fresh edamame, boil them in their pods for about 20 minutes in salted water. Traditionally the Japanese eat edamame by pulling the pods through their teeth to remove the beans and enjoy them with a beer, saying they contain an enzyme that helps break down alcohol. Seems like a theory worth testing.
— By Jo Marshall, a food writer in Deephaven, Minn.