Edamame are creating a stir. This healthy, protein-packed, fresh vegetable fits a modern "on-the-go" lifestyle. And while the crop has been around for thousands of years, it is now gaining popularity as a "new crop" in Illinois.
Edamame, also known as vegetable soybeans, are popping up in Illinois grocery stores, farmers' markets and even in the McDonald's Asian salad. Magazines showcase Hollywood celebrities and their children snacking on these fat-free beans that are nutritious and fun to eat.
Consumers appreciate the benefits and versatility of this food.
"Edamame are a unique vegetable because they provide a complete protein," says Theresa Herman, University of Illinois (U of I) research specialist. "They are a great option for vegetarians or for individuals looking to decrease their consumption of meat."
Edamame are a common snack food in China and Japan, where use goes back more than a thousand years.
Surprisingly enough, edamame were studied in Illinois and across the U.S. in the 1930s, when the search for a value-added food was a priority.
"Unfortunately, there was not enough time for edamame to become engrained in the culture before the post-war boom shifted the focus on soy away from human food uses to animal feed and industrial uses," Herman says.
So, how can this old crop be a new crop for Illinois? Illinois consumers spend $48 billion on food each year, but most of this money leaves the state. Last summer, the Illinois Food, Farms and Jobs Act was passed to help facilitate the development of the local food system and keep more of that money in Illinois.
Some U of I researchers believe edamame is a good candidate for the expanding food production system in Illinois.
"It's the same species as grain soybeans so it's a logical crop as Illinois is one of the top two soybean-producing states," Herman says. "However, because it's a newer crop here, more research is needed on agronomic practices to produce edamame more efficiently at the commercial level. More information on the performance of the available commercial varieties is also needed."
Whether production is expanded among vegetable growers or commodity soybean growers, work needs to be done to fill some information gaps.
U of I Soybean Breeder Dick Bernard has taken a first step by crossing large-seeded Asian varieties of edamame with adapted U.S. grain varieties, resulting in a promising vegetable-type soybean, "Gardensoy," that grows well in the U.S.
Gardensoy varieties are available to home gardeners for spring planting free of charge from the National Soybean Research Center. Here are a few tips for growing edamame this season.
For more information about growing edamame or to obtain seeds, contact research specialist Theresa Herman, National Soybean Research Center, at 217-244-3257 or email@example.com.