What are edamame beans?
Edamame (pronounced “eh-dah-mah-mee”) are young soybeans that are cooked or steamed in their pods and sprinkled with salt. They are eaten directly from the pod. The word edamame literally means “family tree” because the pods grow on sticks or canes. They have been eaten in Japan since the thirteenth century.
Edamame beans are harvested by hand, about two weeks before the beans are fully ripe. How does the farmer know when this is? It is an art! The ideal harvest time only lasts for three or four days. During these days, the beans are sweet, tender and nutty. If you wait even a day too long, they will become chewy, floury and dull tasting.
The Japanese like to eat their edamame in season – they believe that by eating fruits and vegetables only in season, you will live longer. When exactly the season is depends on where you are in the country.
East vs. west
In the West, we usually eat edamame as a starter or side dish, for example with sushi. However, for the Japanese, it is the ideal snack (otsumami) to enjoy with a beer or a cup of sake: healthy and tasty. The owner of the average izakaya (informal eating and drinking room) also likes to put edamame on the drinks menu. The crispy fresh, salty beans make you thirsty and more likely to order another round – a win-win situation. Edamame often evoke nostalgia with the Japanese – they are reminiscent of many pleasant evenings in the pub.
Did you know...
Like other soybeans and products, edamame are rich in proteins, so they are excellent meat substitutes.
How to prepare edamame beans
Preparing edamame beans is simple. The pods containing the beans are cooked or steamed in salted water. Small fresh beans are ready within a minute or three; larger ones need a minute or six at most. You can also steam them. The edamame can then be served hot or cold, sprinkled with some extra salt.
The perfect salt for edamame beans is arajio salt, which is natural Japanese sea salt. After sprinkling the salt on the beans, wait a few minutes before eating them so that the salt can be absorbed into the pods.
How to eat
Eat the edamame by hand. Close your teeth around one of the beans in the pod and “pop” it into your mouth. Repeat with the remaining beans. You don’t eat the pod.