The mighty little bean

Japan’s favourite bar snack and diet food can keep you sober and healthy.

Soybeans are the mainstay of Japanese cuisine and are transformed into a myriad of foods including soy sauce, miso and tofu. In fact, soybeans are such a versatile and central part of the food culture that it would be hard to go a day in Japan without consuming them in some shape or form—you may be surprised to even find them as an ingredient in a slice of cake! Among the various forms that soybeans can take, edamame is one of the purest ways you can savour the natural and rich flavour of the plant.

A popular appetizer at Japanese restaurants in the West, edamame is made from young soybeans harvested before they mature. The earliest accounts of this dish in history date back to around 1275 A.D., in a written account of a Buddhist monk thanking a parishioner for the gift of edamame. Edamame literally translates to “branch bean,” because it was often sold with the beans still attached to their branches. You won’t find edamame attached to branches anymore, but the dish is still most commonly consumed with the pod. The harvest window for these beans is extremely narrow—within three to seven days of the plant’s 150-day growing period—and they only stay fresh for about a day before they begin to deteriorate. Most pods you’ll find contain only two to three beans because anything beyond that is considered to be inferior in taste and nutrition, which will be distributed too thinly within the pod. Because of their rarity, edamame pods containing four beans are considered extremely lucky.

Although they are the same plant, edamame and soybeans have different nutritional contents. One cup of edamame contains 376 calories, while a cup of soybeans has 830 calories. Each cup of edamame has 33 grams of protein, while soybeans have 68 grams of protein. Because of its lower calorie content, edamame is considered a great diet food and snack option. In Japan, edamame is often served in izakaya-style restaurants, much in the same way that peanuts are served in bars in Canada. Edamame is high in essential amino acids, such as vitamin B1 and vitamin C, which are huge aids in digesting alcohol and make it easier on your liver. Edamame is also rich in protein, dietary fibre and micronutrients.

Fresh edamame is difficult to come by in Canada, but luckily frozen edamame is readily available in most grocery stores these days. Because of the naturally nutty and rich flavour of edamame, you can enjoy this dish with minimal preparation. Making edamame at home is as easy as tossing some beans in a pot of boiling water for about five minutes, and then running them under cold water to stop the cooking process. Toss them with a few pinches of salt and you have yourself a delicious and healthy snack. You can also get creative by adding garlic salt or other seasonings. Use your fingers to pinch the beans into your mouth and discard the empty pods.