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January 2008

Edamame: Not just any pea in a pod

By Dennis Linden

Edamame, meaning bean on a branch in Japanese, is the soybean in its fresh state, a tender green pea in a pod about the same size and shape as a peanut. The soybean is nature’s most complete protein food, providing essential amino acids that the human body must have to survive but cannot synthesize.

Edamame
The challenge of January, after all those many little dietary sins served on so many tempting platters during the holiday season, is to find a much needed low-calorie, low-carb finger food to serve to your family and friends camped out around the TV during this month of football playoff games. This is a very hard audience to please; they need to be brought back to dietary reality in stages from their holiday chip ‘n’ dip high. Edamame is the perfect transition snack with just the right amount of salty tang that can replace those fatty snacks. Melissa’s Edamame, shelled and in-the-pod, is pre-cooked. The in-the-pod version just needs a dash of good salt to make a tasty snack that has the same impossible-to-eat-just-one addiction as the potato chip. This simple food has served as a favorite appetizer of Asian cultures for centuries. In modern Japanese beer gardens, salted in-the-shell Edamame served cold in a bowl is the counterpart to our cocktail pretzels or peanuts. Pubs worldwide have passed out salted appetizers freely to encourage the consumption of whatever is on tap since the days of Confucius. The fresh and salted soybean offers some genuine nutrition to this marketing ploy.

Edamame, meaning bean on a branch in Japanese, is the soybean in its fresh state, a tender green pea in a pod about the same size and shape as a peanut. Edible or food-grade soybeans differ from field soybeans (dried form) in that they are slightly larger and more tender with a mild, buttery flavor and contain a much lower percentage of gas-producing starches. Otherwise, the nutritional value of fresh edible and dried soybeans is virtually the same. The soybean is nature’s most complete protein food, providing essential amino acids that the human body must have to survive but cannot synthesize. Moreover, they are a food proven to help deter cancer and lower cholesterol. Not that the guys in the TV room care, but soy also combats the metabolic and physiological changes that occur during menopause. In Asia, women whose diets are high in soy products have reduced menopause symptoms. This feature is not advocating a Super Bowl of tofu, pardon the pun; still, edamame does have the same nutritional content as tofu and can be prepared in minutes with no fuss. The beans freeze well, both in the pod or shelled, and are ready to use with a quick steaming.

Since edamame is marketed both in the pod and shelled, it would be logical to wonder why the in-the-shell version outsells the seemingly more convenient shelled product by far. The answer is in the extra flavor that is held within the pods. A quality that can be easily exploited by stir-frying the pods at high heat in any number of sauces, cooling again to room temperature and serving. For a little extra zip, two of Melissa’s Organic Grinder products make perfect additions. Try tossing a bowl of edamame with either the Garlic & Herb Sea Salt** or the Garden Herb Sea Salt** flavors. It is difficult to describe in delicate terms the fact that the process of sucking the beans out of the pod as a finger food adds a taste experience that differs greatly from a serving of the shelled beans.

That is not to say that the shelled edamame does not have its own place as an ingredient in salads or swapped into any recipe in place of green peas, with a net gain in nutrition and texture. The shelled edamame also makes a great side dish piping hot with butter and herbs. In China, the shelled, raw, edible soybeans are cooked with meat or mixed with other vegetables for various dishes. With today’s emphasis on eating healthier food, the popularity of edamame has started to take hold in this country. This trend is supported here at Melissa’s as our edamame sales have enjoyed a steady monthly increase of about 10% for the last twelve months. As science discovers additional health benefits of the soybean, U.S. consumers are beginning to incorporate more of this whole food, in all of its forms, into their daily diets. Besides, any low calorie, nutritious snack food that also promises to help stop hot flashes is definitely worth a try!