Caren White is a Master Gardener and instructor at Home Gardeners School. She has been associated with Rutgers Gardens for over a decade.
A friend who was browsing a seed display asked me what edamame was. I explained that they are soy beans and that soy beans are used to make soy milk and tofu. But that explanation is not entirely correct.
What is Edamame?
Edamame (Glycine max) is a type of soy bean that is grown for its edible beans. The pods are harvested before they ripen unlike the soy beans you see growing in fields which are harvested after the pods ripen.
Edamame has been known and eaten for thousands of years in China and Japan. It is popular here in the US, especially among vegans, because of its nutritional content. The beans contain high levels of protein and other vital nutrients. The beans make a tasty snack, can be added to salads or substituted in recipes calling for peas. The pods are not edible.
How to Grow Edamame
Edamame is grown from seed direct sown in your garden. If you are concerned about GMOs (genetically modified organisms), you should be aware that 94% of the soy beans grown in the US are GMOs. Purchase non-GMO seeds from a trusted retailer. If you live within a few miles of a farm that is growing soybeans, sow your seeds at least two weeks after the farm has planted so that their plants will not cross-pollinate with yours later in the growing season.
Plant your seeds in the spring after all danger of frost has passed and the soil has warmed to at least 55⁰F. Plant them 1 inch deep and 3 inches apart in rows that are 2 feet apart. Since all of your plants will be ready for harvest at once, if you want a longer harvest, make successive sowings every 2 weeks until early July.
Keep your seedlings evenly moist. When they are 4 to 6 inches tall, thin them to 12 to 18 inches apart and add a 1 inch layer of mulch. After that, you only need to water them if the soil becomes very dry. The plants will reach a height of 2 to 3 feet, so you will need to either stake each plant individually or simply place stakes at either end of the rows and run string between the stakes to support the plants.
Edamame is not subject to disease. Very few insects bother the plants. You can throw a floating row cover over your plants if insects become a problem. By far the worst pests you will encounter will be the four legged kind such as groundhogs, rabbits and deer. Use the usual exclusion methods to keep them out of your garden.
How to Harvest Edamame
Edamame pods grow in bunches on the plants. They are ready to be harvested when they are bright green and the beans inside are swollen and almost touching. There should be at least two beans per pod. All of the pods will ripen at the same time on each plant so you can safely pull up the entire plant. Harvest the beans and throw the plants into your compost. Soybeans are a legume so they are full of nitrogen. Alternatively, you can leave the plants in your garden as a green manure cover crop after harvesting the pods. You can expect each plant to yield 2 ½ pounds of pods.
How to Store Edamame
Edamame should be used right away after harvesting. The beans start losing their flavor within 10 hours of harvest. They remain edible for up to three days when refrigerated. They need humidity, so store them tightly wrapped in plastic or in plastic bags. The beans can also be frozen. Be sure to blanche them before freezing.
How to Prepare Edamame
The beans are normally cooked in their pods, either boiled or steamed. To boil them, add the pods to a pot of boiling salted water and cook for five to six minutes until the pods become tender. If you are boiling frozen pods, cook them for one to two minutes. Frozen pods take less cooking time because they were blanched before freezing and therefore already partially cooked.
To steam your pods, fill a pot with one inch of water and heat to boiling. Insert a steam basket and steam the fresh pods for 5 to 10 minutes, frozen pods for 2 minutes.
You can microwave frozen pods. Use the high setting for 3 minutes. It is not recommended that you microwave fresh pods.
You can pan sear fresh pods. Heat a frying pan and then on medium high heat, cook the pods until they are lightly charred. Turn them over and do the same thing to the other side.
Edamame is normally served in the pods. The pods can be salted or have other seasonings added to them. Just push the beans out of the pods with your fingers directly into your mouth. Or you can serve the beans shelled, adding salt or seasonings to them as you wish.
Questions & Answers
Question: Can beans from last year's dried pods be used for planting?
Answer: Unfortunately no. Edamame pods are harvested before they are ripe. If you want to save seed for planting next year, you must allow the pods to ripen on the plants. Just bear in mind that ripe pods cannot be eaten. My suggestion would be to harvest part of your plants to eat and leave the rest to ripen for seed for next year.
© 2018 Caren White
Dianna Mendez on March 19, 2018:
A had the best edamame at a Thai restaurant served as an appetizer. They were lightly salted and had a mild spicy flavor. I didn't know they were so easy to fix. I'll have to try it soon.
Caren White (author) on March 15, 2018:
Great! Let me know how it goes.
Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on March 15, 2018:
I love Edamame and we buy kilos of them for snacking. I will see what I can do about growing them.
Caren White (author) on March 08, 2018:
Jo, let me know how they turn out for you! Thanks for reading and commenting.
Jo Miller on March 08, 2018:
These sound easy to grow. I may need to try them.
Caren White (author) on March 01, 2018:
Enjoy! I'm going to try it myself.
Audrey Howitt from California on March 01, 2018:
I love edamame--and it seems not to difficult to grow--I will give it a try!