Edamame is the Japanese name for the edible soybean. (They're called Mao Dou in China.) While soybeans are grown in many parts of the world to produce oil and other products from the ripe beans, in many eastern parts of the world, the edamame plant is grown for the purpose of using the still-green beans as a foodstuff as is. It serves as a vegetable and can be cooked with in many dishes. The pods must be picked while still green or they are not edible any longer. All pods from a single plant are harvested at once, so one must plant several crops of edamame to be able to grow and harvest all season.(1)

Edamame is very common in Japanese restaurants, and are sometimes jokingly called "Japanese peanuts" or "Japanese bar nuts" because of their omnipresence and their munchability. They are served, either warm or cold, still in the pod. They often have a sprinkling of sea salt over the tops. One must squeeze the pods and pop the beans into one's mouth; the pods are not edible. Edamame pods are usually served in a bowl, with a plate. The plate is for the shells; when finished, invert the bowl over the pile of shells on the plate. They are usually served before a meal, and many people love them with beer or sake.

To prepare edamame this way at home, boil the uncooked beans in water (salted or unsalted) for five to 10 minutes. If you are serving edamame hot, serve immediately after cooking, for it does not reheat well. Cooked edamame, however, can be refrigerated quite well. Edamame is also often used in stir-fry and other dishes just like any other bean, although this is a little more common in China than Japan.(2)

Edamame has a fairly sweet bean taste. While it reminds some people of peas or lima beans, edamame in general has a nuttier, less vegetable-like taste. They are of themselves fairly neutral, so the flavor goes with just about everything. "Eighty percent of people who try them like them," says agronomist Duane Johnson, Ph.D., associate professor of soil and crop sciences at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. "One percent doesn't like them because they keep trying to eat the pod. The others don't dislike them, they're neutral." (3)

Edamame is also fairly nutritious; they contain high amounts of (soy) protein and are low in fat--even lower in fat than their fully-ripe, processed relatives. The average half-cup serving of edamame contains "11 grams of protein; 130 mg of calcium; 485 mg of potassium; 25 percent of folate's recommended daily allowance; iron; 99 calories (23 from fat); and no cholesterol. " (4)

(1) http://www.evergreenseeds.com/evergreenseeds/edsoyed.html
(2) For edamame recipes, look here: http://agsyst.wsu.edu/sweetbeans.htm
(3) http://www.naturalinvestor.com/nfm-online/nfm_backs/Mar_00/edamame.cfm
(4) ibid.

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