Edamame is a popular Asian food that has caught on in other parts of the world as well. It is made from soybeans that are harvested before they start to harden, and then quickly parboiled and frozen to retain their fresh flavor. There are a number of ways to eat these soybeans, ranging from plain out of hand snacks to processed in sweets and savories. Many Asian grocers stock them, as do large grocers in many areas, along with health food stores.
Soybeans have been cultivated as a source of food for thousands of years. There are a wide range of ways to use them, ranging from the fermented and aged ones in soy sauce to the milked beans used to produce soymilk, a popular dairy alternative. Many people eat soy products because the beans are believed to be beneficial to human health, since they carry lots of protein, calcium, and vitamin C. In many cases, these products are also high in fiber, especially when whole beans are eaten.
Typically, soybeans are allowed to mature on the vine to form hard beans that can be easily harvested and stored. They can also be picked at the peak of ripeness, right before they start to harden; these are called edamame in Japan or mao dou in China. The beans are tender, soft, high in nutritional value, and they have a delicate flavor that some consumers find quite enjoyable. As a general rule, a field of soybeans will be used to produce either shell beans or edamame, but not both.
One of the most traditional ways to eat the beans is in a lightly steamed or boiled form, whole in the pod. The beans may be shelled and added to salads, sandwiches, and soups as well. The cooked beans can be eaten hot or cold, and some consumers pack them into lunches as an easily consumed snack food. The fresh soybeans may also be seasoned with salt, soy sauce, and other ingredients.
In Japan especially, edamame is also used to make desserts. Many Japanese desserts use savory vegetables that may be sweetened or spiced, depending on what the dessert is. Soybeans make a rich and intriguing textural filling for rice cakes and similar dessert foods, and they may be dyed or blended with other ingredients. In addition to being interesting to eat, desserts with edamame are also nutritious and very light in flavor.