What’s Edamame? And Other Questions about Green Vegetable Soybeans

What is edamame?   Is it soy?  — Al

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, I’ll 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 Medica from 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.

Kaayla T. Daniel, PhD, CCN, is The Naughty NutritionistTM because of her ability to outrageously and humorously debunk nutritional myths. A popular guest on radio and television, she has appeared on The Dr. Oz Show, ABC's View from the Bay, NPR's People's Pharmacy and numerous other shows. Her own radio show, "Naughty Nutrition with Dr. Kaayla Daniel," launches April 2011 on World of Women Radio. Dr. Daniel is the author of The Whole Soy Story: The Dark Side of America's Favorite Health Food, a popular speaker at Wise Traditions and other conferences, and recipient of its 2005 Integrity in Science Award. Her website is www.naughtynutritionist.com and she can be reached at Kaayla@DrKaaylaDaniel.com.

6 Responses to What’s Edamame? And Other Questions about Green Vegetable Soybeans

  1. Ron Bazar says:

    Can you comment on this article in Natural News about the benefits of phytic acid in legumes



    • Dr Kaayla Daniel says:

      Phytates can be used in a pharmaceutical way for chelating toxic metals and also toxic levels of needed minerals like iron from the body. They can be useful, but not on an everyday basis where they will pull needed minerals from your body.
      See The Whole Soy Story, Chapter 17, Phytates: The Ties that Bind” for more info.

  2. Kevin Howard says:

    The phytate- and legumophobic pronouncements from the fringes of nutritional science are ridiculous and have always been based on a misunderstanding of the science. Please don’t listen to these rantings. There is more peer-reviewed (not fringe) research coming out all the time supporting the healthful properties of legumes, including soy.

  3. A. Realist says:

    “The phytate- and legumophobic pronouncements from the fringes of nutritional science are ridiculous and have always been based on a misunderstanding of the science.”

    There has been science all along supporting the need to break down phytates. They regularly supplement non-ruminant farm animals’ diets with phytase, to break down the phytates. Studies show that the animals absorb a lot more minerals that way. Go peddle your lies elsewhere. SAP Foundation readers know this is one of the main reasons we have such awful teeth. Whether you know it’s a lie; or whether you are repeating lies without reading WAP-related materials before you condemn them, the lies are just as deadly. Perhaps an occasional phytate cleanse may have beneficial effects; but without a strategy to replenish the minerals they waste, you will ultimately do more harm than good. Have you considered malevolent forces may be motivating people to undertake studies that may be deceptive or falsified, so as to do harm to the general public?

  4. A. Realist says:

    “The phytate- and legumophobic pronouncements from the fringes of nutritional science are ridiculous and have always been based on a misunderstanding of the science.”

    One way to look at it: maybe legumes on the balance do more good than harm to a diet. That being said (not granted a priori), where is your objective science that says fermenting and other methods of phytate reduction are not even better? Why do so many of these naysayer know-nothings slam Price (e.g. his studies aren’t properly scientific) without calling for verification of his claims? I can tell you that a WAP-style diet has done wonders for my dental health. Grrr!

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