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Soybeans refer to an edible bean that is popular in Asia and the United States. Young Soybean pods, which grow on bush-like Soybean plants, are a bright green and are covered in white hairs. When they are mature, they dry out and turn a golden-yellow. Soybeans grow to around 8 centimeters in length and 2cm in width, and contain 1 to 4 oval-shaped beans. Each bean is generally 5 to 11 millimeters in diameter. Soybeans are eaten when they are young, and have a pleasantly mild, nutty and slightly sweet flavor. Some varieties may offer hints of basmati rice. Soybeans have a buttery, creamy texture and feature a crisp bite.
Soybeans are available year-round.
Soybeans are botanically classified as Glycine max, and belong to the pea family. There are many different cultivars of Soybeans which can be consumed as vegetables in the manner of Edamame. These varieties are larger and more digestible than the types of Soybeans which are used to make products like soy milk, tempeh and tofu. Vegetable Soybeans are considered to be a healthy, nutritious snack that offers plenty of plant-based protein.
Soybeans are a source of vegetable protein, and contain all the essential amino acids, isoflavones and sucrose required for the human diet. Soybeans also have high levels of healthy monounsaturated fatty acids, and vitamins C and E. They may have properties that can help prevent the growth of tumors, and have a positive effect on cardiovascular health.
Soybeans can be blanched, boiled and steamed, and eaten out of the pod. They are a substitute in any recipe that calls for green peas or lima beans, and can even be cooked and turned into a hummus-like dip. Soybeans pair well with flavorings like sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, and chilli. They can be garnished with chopped nuts like almonds, peanuts or cashews, spring onions, mint or coriander. Fresh Soybeans are highly perishable and should be used as soon as they are bought. Store them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator, where they can last for up to 3 days.
Soybeans are very commonly referred to as Edamame, which in Japanese means “beans on a branch”. But although Soybeans were used as a vegetable in ancient Japan, the first record of the name “Edamame” only appears in the year 1275. This name actually originally referred to the dish of boiled or steamed beans served with salt, rather than the actual Soybean itself. Over time, the two have become synonymous. By 2008, “Edamame” was recognized as a term referring to the immature Soybean in its pod by the Merriam-Webster dictionary.
The modern Soybean is the cultivated descendant of a wild variety of Soybean, which is native to China, Japan, Korea and Russia. It is unclear exactly when the wild Soybean became domesticated, but Chinese cultivation was recorded as early as 7000 BCE. By the time of the Zhou Dynasty in China (1046 BCE – 256 BCE), the Soybean was seen as an important crop. They were introduced to North America by an East India Company sailor in 1765, and were an important crop in the United States by the mid-20th Century, having been used both fresh and canned after the first and second World Wars. Today, Soybeans are found throughout the world, including in United States, Brazil and Argentina. Soybeans thrive in temperate climates, and require full sunlight to grow.