Edamame (枝豆) is the Japanese name for immature soybeans and literally means “stem beans,” presumably because they were traditionally sold with the stems still attached. Like most beans, soybeans are sweeter and have more umami due to higher concentrations of sucrose and amino acids before they are fully mature. While it’s unclear who first started eating soybeans before they were fully ripened, the taste probably played a big part in enjoying the beans young.
These days, the most common method of preparation is to boil them in salted water and enjoy them straight from the pods, but these lime green beans can be used in everything from soups such as Kenchinjiru to sweets such as Zundamochi.
Edamame is a four syllable Japanese word and is pronounced eh-da-ma-meh. “eh” as in engine, “da” as in dark, “ma” as in march, and “meh” as in medic.
Edamame is one of the few plant-based foods that can be considered a complete protein, meaning it contains adequate portions of the nine essential amino acids, humans need to survive. This makes it an excellent source of protein for people trying to reduce their meat intake.
Soybeans are low in carbs relative to their protein content, and they have a low glycemic index, which allows them to give you energy without raising your blood sugar.
As if that weren’t enough, edamame is also a good source of dietary fiber, vitamin K, and B vitamins such as folate, thiamine and riboflavin and they are full of minerals such as manganese, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, and calcium.
There’s a lot of junk on the Internet saying that soy does everything from lowering heart disease risk to preventing cancer. The truth is, these assertions are backed by observational studies, which can only establish correlation. For example, this study finds a correlation between the consumption of soy and a reduced risk of prostate cancer. But it doesn’t mean anything because it does not identify the mechanism by which the risk is reduced. For instance, perhaps the reduction in risk is because people who eat soy eat less meat, or maybe people who eat soy tend to exercise more. Basically, observational studies are only useful for identifying areas that should be further researched, and they are not a good way for people to decide what to eat.
The bottom line is that you should eat soy because it’s nutritious and delicious, not because you think it might cure or prevent some ailment.
Like many vegetables, sugars in edamame start turning to starches the moment they are picked, so it’s important to use fresh beans. The best way to get them is to buy the whole plant with the leaves and roots still attached, but if you can’t find them whole, try looking for pods that have a thick layer of fuzz on the pods, without any discoloring such as scratches and bruises on the pods.
If you can’t find fresh edamame near you, frozen ones can be a good option as they tend to be frozen shortly after being picked to preserve their freshness. The frozen ones come in two varieties: precooked, which makes them ready to eat, and raw which need to be boiled.
For precooked frozen edamame, all you need to do is defrost them, and you can eat them cold. If you want them hot, you can warm them up in the microwave. The boiled ones are also typically salted, so you don’t even need to season them.
For frozen raw edamame, you can follow the directions below for making fresh edamame as all of my tricks apply to the frozen ones as well.
For fresh edamame, the first thing I like to do is to cut the tips of the pods off. If the pods are still attached to the stems, you need to do this to get them off the stems anyway, but I do this even for edamame that have already been removed from the stems. The reason is that by cutting the top of the pod off, you open a small hole that allows the salt water you boil the edamame in to penetrate the pod and season the beans inside.
The next step is to scrub the soybeans with salt and a bit of water to remove all the fine hairs on the pods. This isn’t necessary, but it makes for a more pleasant eating experience as you won’t end up with fuzz in your mouth. Then you just rinse the salt off the pods, and they’re ready to cook
I usually boil fresh edamame for six to nine minutes in water that has enough salt added to make it taste like the ocean (about 4% salt). The length of time will depend on the size and thickness of your pods, so I usually start testing them around the six minutes. The pods should easily release the beans into your mouth when you bite down, but the pods themselves shouldn’t disintegrate as they don’t taste very good.
Japanese Appetizer Recipes
- 300 grams
- 2 cups water
- 2 tablespoons salt plus more for washing
- Bring a pot of salted water big enough to easily hold your edamame to a boil. I use 1 tablespoon of salt per cup of water.
- Cut the stem end of the edamame pods off with clean scissors.
- Scrub the edamame in salt and then rinse thoroughly to remove the fine hairs on the pods.
- Boil the soybeans for 6-9 minutes, depending on how big they are. You can start testing the edamame at around 6 minutes for doneness. They should easily pop out of the pods, without having the pods disintegrate.
- Drain the edamame and serve with an extra sprinkle of sea salt if needed.