Do we need another superfood? Maybe, we can’t afford not to recognize what some have to offer. In recent years, the edamame has been gaining popularity across the country. A favored snack in Japan, it is making inroads into American culture. The earthy, smoothly-textured bean with its slightly nutty flavor is adding a new dimension to our experience of Japanese cuisine beyond sushi.
Edamame is the soft, immature soybean. Frequently served as a bar snack in the pod, only the bean is edible. Usually the unripe pod is quickly blanched in salted water to retain its flavor, texture and color while maintaining its own carrying case. Edamame is not yet poised to replace salted peanuts or pretzels with beer in this country, but time will tell.
Certainly, the edamame has long been enjoyed in Asia. Japanese monks were known to lavish thanks on parishioners for gifts of the bean. During Ming Dynasty famines, the bean was ground into flour to extend a meager meal. The Chinese call it the “Hairy Bean”. Hairy though it is, it was immortalized during Japan’s Edo period in haiku verse. The first record of U.S. cultivation resulted in a farmer’s complaint that it was difficult to shell (raw). Perhaps that’s one reason most cultivators don’t shell them prior to getting them to market.
Once an oddity for the west coast and a couple of major cities, recognition of the high protein, high fiber, low-calorie edamame bean has spread enthusiastically across the country. In 2014, an enterprising family started the first U.S. edamame processing facility in Arkansas. It is a beneficial crop for diversifying cultivated land and there is a consistent level of growth in the demand.