What Are Edamame Seeds?
If you look in the seed catalogs for edamame seeds you may not have much luck. Of you go online and do a search at a seed company's website you may or may not have luck. If you're directed to a page where edamame seeds are available, you might not even see the name edamame, but will find you've been directed to soybean seeds.
All edamame seeds are soybean seeds, but not all soybean seeds are edamame seeds. Edamame is a Japanese designation for the seed and the name applies only to the green, immature soybean seed. It just so happens that green, immature soybean seeds are toxic to humans, and to certain types of livestock as well. Yet in Japan these immature seeds, edamame seeds, are eaten as a snack, an apparently delicious snack when a little salt is added.
Never Eaten Raw - It probably should be mentioned that when toxic edamame seeds are prepare for a snack, Japanese style, they are first cooked in water, usually salted water. The soybean seeds are cooked in their pods and the cooking destroys the toxic elements, making the soybeans, or edamame, quite safe to eat. Not only are these immature boiled, steamed, or parboiled soybeans used for snacks, but they also are used in soups, salads, and various other oriental dishes. The pods are usually discarded unless you're prepared to do a lot of chewing, as they are too fibrous to be considered edible.
Although we don't commonly find soybeans in private vegetable gardens, they are easy to grow. If you can grow bush beans, you can grow soybeans. The mature edamame plant will be about 2 feet high. Edamame seeds can be planted in a staggered manner so you don't have to harvest the whole crop at once, this is important as the harvest time is rather narrow, as the edamame pods need to be picked before they become mature. Once the pods are harvested and have been steamed or boiled, the seeds can be removed and either eaten as snack, added to food dishes, or frozen.
Why The Immature Seeds? - The question might arise - if edamame seeds (immature seeds) are toxic but soybeans as we generally think of them are not, why bother with the immature seeds in the first place. Why not simply let the seeds mature and ripen and not worry about any toxicity? That's a good question, even though the answer, once you hear it, seems obvious. The immature edamame seeds are much more tasty as well as more easily digested than are the mature seeds. It's all in our taste buds and digestive system.
Edamame seeds are available from most seed retailers. Bear in mind that there are a number of soybean varieties, generally divided into those using in commercial plantings, for oil and meal, and those used primarily for human consumption. A seed store or nursery will normally direct you to the proper variety. While all varieties of soybeans are edible, certain Asian varieties have been developed especially for human consumption as a light snack or for use in certain dishes. Unfortunately many of these varieties do not grow well in North America, but varieties have been developed on this side of the ocean as well, designed to serve one's taste buds with satisfaction. If you use the term edamame, you may or may not be understood, especially by an employee new on the job. A packet of 25 seeds will cost in the neighborhood of $4 to $5. Whether or not you can collect and save seeds for future plantings may depend upon whether or not the variety planted is a hybrid. A single packet however should yield an abundance of edamame seeds, a good start for most gardeners.