Perhaps you have eaten them at sushi bars or seen them in the snack aisle at grocery stores. Just what are these popular green beans? Edamame comes from a special variety of soybean plant -- these are not the same soybeans you might see growing in Midwest farm fields (those varieties are typically processed for oil, tofu, and animal feeds). Until recently, most edamame soybeans were imported, but American farmers are starting to grow these specialty crops, too. Unlike regular mature soybeans, which become dry and brown, beans inside edamame pods are unripe, still soft, green, and edible. They require just a few minutes of cooking. Only the beans are to be eaten because the outer pod is too fibrous.
Edamame is a relative newcomer to the U.S. food scene, but it's been served for centuries in Asia. With the growing popularity of Asian foods, including sushi and soy products, chefs and cooks are discovering these versatile legumes. Best of all, they are easy to prepare for the home cook as well. Season edamame with a sprinkle of salt or a favorite seasoning as an appetizer or side dish, or serve the beans in salads, stir-fries, and dishes with grains. Some people describe the taste as nutty and buttery, with its own unique flavor.
What Are the Nutritional Benefits of Edamame?
A 1/2-cup serving of shelled edamame has 100 calories, 3 grams of fat, and 8 grams of protein. These numbers are great for snack-food lovers. In comparison to another popular snack, a 1-ounce serving of peanuts (a small handful) has 170 calories and 14 grams of fat. Also, as a boon to vegetarians, soy protein is a complete protein, meaning it has all of the essential amino acids. Because it is a whole bean, edamame has a lot of fiber -- 3 grams, or about as much as you would find in a slice of whole grain bread.
Edamame is rich in phytochemicals and plant sterols, associated with lowering cancer risk. While these are not the miracle cholesterol-lowering compounds once believed, the American Heart Association recommends substituting soy protein to replace other foods high in saturated fat (such as meat and cheese) for heart health.
How to Cook Fresh Edamame
You might find fresh edamame pods at farmer's markets or Asian groceries in late summer. Some home gardeners plant edamame as well. The whole pod is cooked because it's difficult to remove the beans prior to cooking; they slip out easily once the pods are cooked. To cook fresh edamame pods:
- Bring a pot of water or lightly salted water to boiling in a large saucepan. Add the pods and return the water to boiling; boil pods about 5 minutes. Do not overcook them or they will get mushy.
- Drain the beans and cool them under cold running water or immerse them in ice water to stop the cooking.
- To shell the beans, gently squeeze the pods with your fingers to release them. Or have fun simply putting the pods in your mouth and popping the beans out of their skins.
- Some people serve edamame cold and will refrigerate the cooked beans for an hour or two after cooking. Either way, you may want to sprinkle them with a coarse salt or dip them in soy sauce. And of course, they are ready to use in your favorite recipes (see below for ideas).
How to Store Fresh Edamame
Try to cook edamame pods as soon as possible after purchasing. They can be stored a day or two in the refrigerator before cooking. Once cooked, the edamame pods should be stored in the refrigerator for up to several days. Freezing is another option -- you can freeze whole cooked pods, or shell the beans and freeze them. To reheat the frozen beans, cook them in boiling water for a few minutes.
How to Cook Other Forms of Edamame
- Frozen edamame: You can find other forms of edamame in the grocery story year-round, such as frozen shelled edamame. The beans have already been cooked and just need to be reheated for 2 to 3 minutes in a pan of boiling water.
- Refrigerated edamame: Look for fully cooked, shelled edamame in the produce section of your grocery store. Just a few minutes in the microwave is all it takes to warm them up. Individual snack sizes are also available.