The Supreme Bean of Them All: Edamame

Most people have this belief that scientists are great chefs and bakers. They ask me: “Isn’t following a recipe just like following a laboratory protocol?” Uhm… no comment.

I am not much of a chef. I survived much of grad school (and even much of law school these days) eating instant noodles, often throwing along in the pot whatever else I had on hand at that moment: enoki mushrooms, cabbage, bean sprouts, tofu, etc. But regardless of what noodle of the day I am serving myself, if I am feeling extra fancy, I will separately blanch some soybeans in salted water, and serve them either hot or cold as a side dish.

What? When you hear soybeans, are you thinking of tofu, soy milk, or the round, dried, yellow beans? I, however, am talking about edamame. Edamame are essentially immature, green soybeans. In Japanese, eda means ” branch” or “stem,” while mame refers to “bean.” In the olden days, edamame were sold on stems, as opposed to just in pods or out of pods as they are these days in the supermarkets.

Fun fact: The Chinese characters of edamame is 毛豆 (mao dou), which translates to furry beans. Do you see the furry pods?

Although edamame has been around in the U.S. for at least the last century, it did not make a splash into the food scene until the sushi boom (arguably in the 1980’s, attributable to the popularity of the TV series Shogun). With the advent of sushi, customers found themselves drinking Japanese beer and sake. And in Japanese restaurants, instead of serving free peanuts along with alcohol, it was free edamame.

Edamame reigns supreme in my books because of two main reasons:

  1. It is super easy to prepare. Although I tried to be fancy and used the term “blanch,” anyone can master the art of cooking edamame. All you require is a pot of boiling water. Plus, if you are feeling super lazy (re: removing the pods), you can even buy edamame as mukimame, or shelled edamame.
  2. Edamame is a complete protein. This means that it is a food source that is not only protein-packed but contains each of the nine essential amino acids necessary in the human diet.

There is information floating around on the Internet that edamame is less “gas inducing.” That is, although edamame is nonetheless still a legume, it apparently is “less gassy” than many of its legume counterparts. Some articles attribute this property to its immatureness or its carbohydrate content. But alas, I have not been able to verify this. Wouldn’t we wish that edamame would be the bean to solve the flatulence issue associated with all beans?

There is, however, some hope. The next time you are boiling edamame, watch for the white foam that surfaces. The white foam is actually caused by the raffinose, a sugar present in edamame. Raffinose remains undigested until your gut bacteria ferments it. When bacteria ferments raffinose, this process causes bloating and produces gas. By removing the white foam, you can remove some of the raffinose and prevent some of the downstream bloating and flatulence.

Cheers and happy edamame eating!

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