Which Edamame Variety is best for a Market Garden?
We set out to find out what was the best edamame for the market garden. Based on both subjective and objective evidence, we chose several that happen to come from different maturity groups, including Virginia State cultivars Asmara and Owens and commercially available Butterbeans. The longer growing varieties were so much more productive, that they are the favored by the researcher. However, Butterbeans will get another chance, and be planted earlier to see if it could be more productive than initially found to be. The project was successful, and as all good research is wont to do, poses new questions to explore. We will continue to develop the market, and assist the soybean breeders at Virginia State and the USDA by whatever means we can.
Our objective was to answer the title question, “What Is the Best Edamame Variety for the Market Garden?” We grew out a selection of varieties available from various sources and held test panels to determine preferences among a broad variety of people.
May 2, 2006, soil temperature 70°F We planted 8 varieties of edamame, 2 commercially available: Butterbeans and Envy; 5 developed at Virginia State University by Dr. Tadesse Mebrahtu: Asmara, Kanrich, Owens, Randolph and VS03-688; and Akiyoshi, a Japanese variety.
They all emerged nicely within a week or so, and many of the tender sprouts were promptly eaten by marauding rabbits in the dark of night. We filled in on May 21, and they emerged nicely, too, and we promptly covered them with bird netting and floating row covers. Both worked well to preserve the plants until they were larger and tougher, and less tempting to the rabbits.
Over the growing season, we had a number of gardeners weeding, mulching, scouting, picking and plucking. Most were youngsters, although two parents pitched in at agricultural worker wages and enjoyed learning our low-input ways. We stayed flexible and in touch, and when there was work to be done, there were hands to do it. Because of vacations, swim team, tennis and such, it was important to have a pool of people on whom to call when needed.
The short season varieties, Butterbean and Envy, were harvested in mid August, and in late September we pulled up the second round of the longer maturity group.
Once the edamame reached maturity, we held two taste trials. The Taste Panel for Trial 1 was constituted from a pool of friends and acquaintances who were emailed an invitation to come at a certain time. Only those who were available at that time were included.
The Panel in Trial 2 included two cooperators and 4 other staff people who happened to be on duty at the time. Some who volunteered had eaten them before and some had not. They were given instructions to sample all varieties first, to get an idea of the differences, and then to test for subjective preferences and objective differences.
Because soybeans in the different maturity groups matured at such different times, the taste panels had fewer than eight varieties to test.
This may have been less confusing, but did not allow all varieties to be tasted against each other. I have since learned that the maturity groups are somewhat predictable, so would have staggered the planting to accommodate those differences. This is an asset for market gardeners, though, because growing beans with different growth periods provides a longer harvest season.
We also practiced crop rotation, concentrating on planting greens where the beans had been. This gave the young gardeners first hand knowledge about the role of nitrogen, and an opportunity to discuss basics of the NPK system.
In short, we took every opportunity to talk about what we were doing and why, and learned a lot more than we set out to discover.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Here are the results of our edamame experience, based on flavor, texture, ease of shelling and prolificacy:
Asmara is the most liked. It’s nutty and delicious, with a lovely opalescence. It has golden brown pubescence (fuzz) that was not a deterrent to enjoyment here. It is said that there is a preference in the market for smooth pods, but the only time it surfaced in these trials was when a knowledgeable edamame eater
Butterbean ranked well in the taste test, but it wasn’t nearly delicious enough to make up for it’s lack of productivity. We will try it again, planting it earlier to see if we can get some size on it.
Owens was another VSU cultivar, was also a favorite. It is large, nutty and has paler pubescence than Asmara.
Randolph and Kanrich, two Virginia State varieties, developed by Dr. Tadesse Mebrahtu, are large, prolific and received mixed reviews. My observation is that when they are overly mature, the flavor deteriorates.
Because of the differences among maturity groups, there is a chance that some disparity in ideal harvest time may have contributed to the way some were perceived by the panelists.
An extra gift from these hearty legumes was the bumper crop of greens that followed in their wake, due to the nitrogen added as the soybeans grew.
A fortuitous outcome was the discovery of a huge potential market for edamame. After demand among my friends was filled, there were still many more than I could reasonably keep myself. So I cooked some, packed a box with 1 pound bags, and stopped in the nearest natural food store. The produce manager had never eaten them before and was so smitten that he had them on display before I could finish my shopping. He asked me to grow lots for the store next year. He also asked that I be available to demo them, prepare dishes, and generally support the effort. This will add to the real cost of getting them to market, but I’m in it for the long haul.
I also connected with the produce director of a local grocery chain who wants to have fresh locally grown edamame in his stores. I have submitted a grant proposal to finance the formation of a marketing cooperative for edamame, and am seeking growers within 100 miles of Richmond to fill this need.
While I will grow edamame in my garden for life, and share it as widely as possible, as with all things, there are cautions. The Raw Greens, Inc. website, rawgreens.com succinctly summarizes the benefits and cautions:
“Isoflavones found in soy have been found to protect against cancer, cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis. Soy flavones may also promote Phase II liver enzymes, which help the body eliminate toxins. Certain soy isoflavones are phytoestrogens or plant estrogens that exert very weak estrogenic activity in the body. Including these phytoestrogens in the diet seems to reduce symptoms of menopause including hot flashes, weight gain and depression.
There is, however, a downside to soy. Non-fermented soybeans contain phytic acid, which binds minerals, proteins and starch, thereby reducing the body’s ability to absorb these elements. Trypsin inhibitors in soy interfere with protein digestion, and research also shows that too much soy can suppress thyroid function. On the other hand, fermenting soy halts the effect of phytic acid and creates the “good” bacteria the body needs for digestion and assimilation of nutrients and it is the way that Asian cultures have been taking their soy for centuries. Eat only fermented soy products, and be aware that non-fermented soy has found its way into about 60% of the products lining grocery store shelves.”
After consulting knowledgeable scientists and reviewing numerous articles on the web, I feel comfortable stating that cooked edamame is an excellent food to include in a balanced diet. Soybean researcher Tadesse Mebrahtu of Virginia State University reports, “vegetable soybean harvested at green pod stage has lower PA content than the dry soybean.”
I was honored to be invited to present at Virginia State University’s Soybean Symposium September 12, 2006. In October I gave a workshop on What the Bible Says about Healthy Eating and concentrated on eating low on the food chain, bringing in sustainable agriculture issues. A write up of the project will appear in the upcoming issue of The Virginia Biological Farmer and I will present at the Virginia Biological Farming Conference entitled Healthy Farms, Healthy Soil Healthy Food February 2-3, 2007. The presentation will be made available through the VABF website and will be offered to Southern SAWG shortly.