Knowing Beans about Edamame

edamame soy Mar 01, 2013

The Naughty Nutritionist® gets more questions about edamame than just about anything else.  Some of those questions are outright silly, proving that when it comes to edamame,  some people just don’t know beans.  Time to change that!

 What’s edamame?  

Edamame is the Japanese word for sweet, green vegetable soybeans.  They are harvested at the point when the beans are well developed but still soft and green.  Boiled or steamed in the pod for up to 20 minutes, they are salted, removed from the pod and served chilled.  In Japanese restaurants, I’ve seen them offered as an appetizer, green vegetable or an ingredient in salads.  Americans, however, have found a whole new way to eat edamame –  snacking on big bags of it in front of TV.   This practice has taken off to such an extent that Whole Foods, Costco and other food emporia now dedicate whole freezer cases to edamame.    It’s rare to find fresh edamame in such stores.   Most is sold frozen either with or without the pods.  Historically, edamame was unpopular because of the time-consuming challenge of hulling it.   Dr. John Harvey Kellogg was frustrated for years because he wanted to can edamame but found it uneconomical.  That changed for him in 1935 when  Henry Ford’s Edison Institute came up with a reliable mechanical process.    Kellogg would be amazed today to find so many snackers who find the shelling to be part of the attraction.


Do you say “The edamame is delicious?”    Or do you you say “The edamame are delicious?”  —   Stickler

Dear Stickler,   Would I call edamame delicious?   Probably not.  I mean it’s okay as a lima bean substitute .  . .  , but please bring back the old fordhooks.    But I digress.   You really want to know if the word edamame  is singular or plural, don’t you?    As I understand it, its meaning can be either singular or plural in Japanese, but is typically used as a collective.    So what  I’d say is “Edamame is on the menu but so is ikura (salmon roe).  Given the choice between cholesterol and chlorophyll, The Naughty Nutritionist™ will  opt for cholesterol every time.”


I thought edamame was like so good for you!  Really, seriously,  it’s not?  I mean it’s a natural bean still in its shell, how can it not be  good for you?   — Ariel

Dear Ariel,  A little once in awhile, as in the small quantities served as an appetizer in many Japanese restaurants is fine for most people.   No worries unless you are allergic.   The problem today is , a lot of people are noshing on edamame like its popcorn.   And doing so night after night.   Bottom line is the quantities of antinutrients and toxins in the edamame collective  add up quickly.   Edamame can thus put you at risk for digestive distress, thyroid disorders, immune system breakdown, reproductive problems, etc.     I’d also suggest it is “really, seriously” naive to think  “natural” is always “safe” and “good for you.”    Raw or undercooked “natural beans in their shells” are notorious producers of gas and other digestive distress.   And if that doesn’t convince you that there are some hazards to beans, you might want to  Google “favism.”


Please elaborate on edamame. I like to give it to my children.  I’m confused because I thought it was a good and healthy raw health food –  Edda Mama

Dear Edda Mama,   You don’t want to eat edamame raw.  Ever.   It must be cooked.   Even then, it will retain some antinutrients, toxins and phytoestrogens.   These will add up, putting you and your children at risk, if not sooner, later.   Risk is not certainty, but for  the reasons noted above, please don’t  let your children overindulge.


I have got a bag of frozen green soya beans in my freezer and wanted to have these in a salad. Your website is making me believe this may not be a good idea.  Would it be best to sprout them first? I have a seed sprouter in my cupboard and could do this quite easily.  What is the effect of sprouting soya beans on their toxins and so on? —   Ingrid.

Dear Ingrid,   If you put a few edamame beans on your salad once in awhile I would not worry about it, unless, of course, you are allergic to soy.   No reason to throw out the bag but also no reason to buy more.   I would not recommend sprouting soybeans as it concentrates the toxins.   Long-term fermentation neutralizes them, but short-term sprouting concentrates them.


How can edamame be a problem.  It’s simple, natural and been eaten in Asia for at least 5,000 years. –  Peter

Dear Peter,   Edamame is a definitely a low-tech soy product.   Common sense would suggest it’s been around for a long time.  But historian William Shurtleff of the Soyfoods Center in Lafayette, CA, knows of no early references to green vegetable soybeans in China.    An herbal guide from 1406 (Ming Dynasty) indicates the whole pods of young soybeans could be eaten or ground for use with flour, but it recommended such uses only during times of famine.     A Materia Medicafrom 1620  recommends edamame, but only for the medicinal purpose of killing “bad or evil chi.”  By 1929, however,  edamame was definitely on some menus.  William Morse of the USDA reported on a field trip to China that “as early as May, small bundles of plants with full grown pods were seen on the market.  At  the present time the market is virtually flooded with bundles of plants with full grown pods, the seeds of which are also full grown.  The pods are boiled in salt water and the beans eaten from the pods.”   As for your dateline,  many people talk about soy being eaten by Asians for 5,000 or even 10,000 years or “since time immemorial.”   Anthropology and history texts do not support this idea.   The oldest soyfoods,  miso and tofu  date back only about 2,500 years.   Contrary to popular belief,, soy was not eaten as a food 5,000 years ago, but it was highly regarded for its role in crop rotation.


©copyright 2012 Kaayla T. Daniel


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