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Edamame – Gardening Tips from the Culinary View


as recommended by Michael Vidrine

We are in the middle of Fall in November and the cool season crops are really taking off.  Many warm season vegetables are still producing as well and most will continue until our first freeze which usually happens about the end of this month.  Edamame (vegetable soybean) is a warm season crop that we often harvest both in the spring and again in the fall.

Soybeans (Glycine max) are an annual  legume native to East Asia.  Evidence has been found that it was cultivated as early as 7000 BC.  Cultivation spread throughout Asia and beyond reaching the Americas in the 18th century.  Soybeans are extensively grown and used to make a broad range of products including soy sauce, tofu, vegetable oil, miso, soy milk and tempeh.   Edamame are particular varieties of soy beans intended to be harvested as immature beans and eaten as a vegetable.

Edamame are a warm season annual that we generally grow from spring into early summer and again from late summer into fall.  The varieties I’ve grown seem not to like the hottest part of the summer (can’t blame them for that!). Most varieties of edamame are bush varieties about 2 feet tall and determinate – setting most of their crop all at once.  Like other legumes, edamame can capture atmospheric nitrogen and only require moderate fertility. The plants form a symbiotic relationship with Rhizobia bacteria in the soil and the seed you buy will often be inoculated with this bacteria to improve productivity.  Seed can be planted every week to 10 days to extend the fresh harvest. I plant seeds at a 6 inch spacing an inch deep in our raised beds and irrigate if the weather is dry. Germination is usually very good and one fill-in planting about a week later usually results in an excellent stand.  Compared to green beans growing at the same time, edamame have very few pest or disease problems and rarely need any controls.

Edamame flowers are self fertile and usually form multiple pod clusters of 3 to 5 pods  with each pod having 2 or 3 beans. The pods are hairy with tough inedible skins – in fact the whole plant is tough and  hairy – maybe why the bugs don’t bother them as much as regular beans . The beans come in various colors including black, brown, yellow, green and even varicolored.  The plants are usually ready to harvest 70 to 90 days from sowing depending on variety. Lots of varieties are available many with interesting names including: Be Sweet, Lucky Lion, Emerald, Green Legend and Beer Friend.  After trying a few varieties we now mostly plant the variety Midori Giant – it has done well for us and is available from a number of different sources. At harvest, I pull up the entire plant and then strip the pods from the plants while sitting in a comfortable location – usually the back porch with a refreshing beverage.  The beans are best consumed within a couple of days of harvest. To keep for later consumption they can be parboiled then frozen in the pods. My wife and daughter are particularly fond of edamame and always have some in the freezer.

Edamame must be cooked before consumption – raw beans do not digest well and will cause severe gastric problems.  The most common way to eat edamame is to boil, steam or microwave with a bit of salt for seasoning and then eat the tender beans like peanuts or popcorn.  Cooked beans can be shelled like you would Lima beans but for fresh eating you can just pull the pod through your teeth to strip the tender beans out. Various recipes also add garlic and other spices for variety.  Fixed simply, edamame are a very common snack in most Asian bars and restaurants. The beans are also a great addition to salads and slaws and even guacamole and make a very nice hummus. Edamame are also great in soups and  stir-fry’s. 

Edamame are almost  40 percent protein and are high in vitamins A and B, calcium, iron, and fiber. Recent research shows that soybeans are high in essential fatty acids and low in saturated fat, and that increased consumption of soybean products may help lower cholesterol levels.  I’ll bet that is especially true if you eat edamame instead of a double meat cheeseburger.

Easy to grow, taste great and good for you – whether you grow your own, pick some up at your grocer or order a snack at your favorite watering hole, I highly recommend that you give edamame a try.

Michael Vidrine

Brazos Valley Gardener, Orchardist, Apiarist and Instructor

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