Edamame & Soybeans
Edamame is the Japanese name for edible soybeans consumed at the green stage. Also referred to as vegetable soybeans, edamame is the same species as the traditional grain soybean (Glycine max) commonly grown in Kentucky. However, compared to grain soybean, edamame seeds are larger with a sweet, nutty flavor, and better digestibility. An important vegetable in Asia, edamame demand in the U.S. has increased with the popularity of Asian cuisine. Additional interest in edamame stems from its many reported health benefits. The green soybeans are very high in protein, particularly for a vegetable, and contain beneficial phytochemicals.
Marketing edamame is more closely related to marketing vegetables than conventional oilseeds. The current market for edamame in Kentucky is primarily associated with specialty produce and farmers markets located near population centers. Produce brokers have indicated that they are willing to handle uniformly packaged, high quality edamame. Fresh edamame is marketed mainly at farmers markets. Fresh edamame can be marketed in the pod or bunched on the stalk, depending on the market channel, with farmers market and some ethnic market customers more interested in edamame on the stalk.
Edamame cultivars vary in terms of such characteristics as plant height, yield, seed size, seed flavor, and time to maturity. While seed may be sold with “days to harvest” information, edamame cultivars should be purchased based on “maturity group.” This designation (0 to V) for soybean cultivars identifies the production region (latitude) for maximum yield potential. Varieties best adapted to Kentucky are generally in Maturity Groups III, IV, and V, depending on the area of the state. Cultivars grown outside their adapted zone will not perform well because they will flower either too early or too late. Producers should determine which soybean maturity group(s) will perform best in their region and select cultivars accordingly. Other desirable, marketable qualities should be considered once the maturity group has been identified.