19 Dec 20230 Comments
Once enjoyed only at the Japanese sushi bar, edamame has found its way into mainstream American meals, serving up fresh flavor and big nutrition.
Soybeans originated in Southeast Asia and were first cultivated by the Chinese as early as 1100 BC. It didn’t take long for the world to catch on to this versatile crop used for everything from animal feed, automobile production and, of course, culinary ingredient. Soy sauce, tofu and myriad other familiar forms of the soybean begin as a simple, fresh, green plant seed — known as edamame.
Edamame, which means “stalk beans” or “branch beans” in Japanese, describes fresh green soybeans either shelled or still inside the pod. They are different from other soybeans because they are fresh, not dried. Fresh or dried, soybeans are legumes, the seeds of the plant, Glycine max. Traditional to the diets of Japan, China and Korea, the U.S. is the largest soybean grower, though mostly for processing into animal feed and soy oil. Consumed in their whole, fresh or dried forms, soybeans contain a bounty of vitamins, minerals and nutrients. A one-cup serving has just 189 calories but packs a hefty 32% DV (DV=Daily Value, based on 2,000 calories/day) of dietary fiber, 34% DV of protein, and 121% DV of the B vitamin, folate.
Many of soy’s potential health benefits are attributed to isoflavones, a type of phytoestrogen that has been researched for its benefits for heart health, bone health and osteoporosis, certain cancers, hot flashes in postmenopausal women, and more. While some previous studies showed concern over soy intake and breast cancer risk, newer research has been more favorable. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, consistent findings indicate no increased risk of soy intake for breast cancer survivors. Despite three decades of research on soy, evidence remains inconsistent and oftentimes conflicting in many of the areas, including osteoporosis and cognitive function (Frontiers in Nutrition, 2022).
The finer points
Fresh soybeans can be found in the produce and refrigerated section of Asian, natural food and many grocery stores. Firm, deeply green, unbruised pods will produce the best quality beans, when shelled. Alternatively, frozen edamame that has already been boiled or steamed, is available year-round. Refrigerate fresh beans up to two days and frozen beans up to three months. Enjoy edamame as an appetizer eaten right from the pod, shelled as a vibrant green complement to a side dish of veggies, like corn, diced red pepper and onion, blend it into a creamy hummus dip, or use it as a nutritious garnish for soups, salads, and entrees.
Article by Kristen N. Smith, PhD, RDN, LD; (Reprinted with permission from Environmental Nutrition, a monthly publication of Belvoir Media Group, LLC. 800-829-5384. www.EnvironmentalNutrition.com.) ©2023 Belvoir Media Group. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.