Inhabitants of underdeveloped nations and victims of natural disasters are the only people who have ever been happy to see soybeans.
– Fran Lebowitz, author, journalist, humorist, essayist
No way Fran! Have you never heard of edamame, tofu, soy milk, miso, Trader Joe's spiced soybeans? Snap out of it, girl! The soybean is a good thing.
Granted, I'd rather stuff my mouth with potato chips or pizza, but soybean products can be good for you. Some even taste good.
Getting back to Trader Joe's for a few moments, I can safely say that a soybean skeptic could find many forms of edible soy foods there. Let's stroll through the store and see what we can find, shall we? I see shelled edamame soybeans, TJ's soy milk, those spiced soybeans I mentioned before, organic tofu veggie burgers, the quite pleasant-tasting Trader Joe's Savory Thin Mini Edamame Crackers, and – you'll surely salivate over this one – dark chocolate-covered edamame. We all love dark chocolate, eh?
And what is edamame, you ask? It's merely fresh, green, soybean pods with the seeds inside. You open the pod and pop the plump seeds into your mouth as snacks or appetizers. But first, boil the pods for three or four minutes with a little salt and then dump them into ice water to keep their emerald green color and to cool them down. Next, open the pods and consume the enjoyable beans inside them. They can be a healthful snack to ward off hunger till suppertime.
Edamame is a Japanese word, and I was living in Japan when I first tried the little edibles. At some Japanese restaurants, edamame is served as a free appetizer dish when you sit down.
Growing up in farm country, I knew soybeans were lush and green early in the season, but they were harvested here when they became brown. Most Illinois soybeans became animal feed or soybean oil or soy meal. And the industrial uses were and are many. I'd never heard of edamame. I'd never even heard of tofu. I was a green kid from the Midwest, and the bean crops came in when the plants were dry and brown. That's all I knew.
You'd think I would have wised up, because I spent some of my growin'-up time in
the soybean fields. For example, I fondly remember riding on my grandfather's old
Massey-Ferguson tractor, as he prepped the field for soybean planting.
"Hey, Grandpa, stop!" I yelled to him one time.
Being the kind gentleman he was, he stopped, even though there was a lot more earth
to be turned and not a lot of time in which to do it. He must have figured that his grandson surely had a good reason for interrupting the work of the planting season. He might have thought: Am I not driving straight enough?
Nope, that wasn't it. He was a great tractor driver. The fact was, I'd seen an arrowhead in the newly exposed soil. I wasn't much concerned about soybeans. I was more interested in finding an American Indian artifact or two, and I'd spotted an almost perfect projectile point. Rather than get mad at his silly grandson, he smiled at me and shared my enthusiasm.
I'm surprised I don't hate the mere sight of soybeans after the summer of 1963 – or was it 1964? – when I worked for a farmer about two or three miles from my hometown of Lebanon, Ill. During a couple of summery days, a few other young teens and I were tasked with hoeing a large soybean field. That means we had to hoe weeds – digging them up with regular, old-fashion, wood-handle hoes – throughout the entire bean field. The sun beat down on us, and the broiling heat was almost dizzying. However, we were rewarded in the middle of the hot afternoon, when Mr. Virgin showed up with some ice-cold ice cream for us. In my entire life, ice cream has never tasted as good as the cold ice cream we so much enjoyed that summer in that bean field.
Yet, I do not hate the sight of soybeans. Images of those bean plants soothe me and please me. Their roots and my roots are embedded in this Illinois soil. I enjoy walking or jogging for a mile or so along fields of young, green soybeans. I also enjoy trekking through Ponderosa pine trees in the California mountains, but you can't eat pines. I can eat me some soybeans, though.
We can eat and drink soy in so many ways. First of all, I cook a lot of Asian food, and I use a lot of soy sauce. Then there's miso, or soybean paste, which goes into my beef and pork broths to be poured over my Japanese noodles. And after enjoying edamame as snacks or appetizers, I can always use the pods in soups and stews.
Soybeans are also healthful. A lot of studies have focused on the health benefits of soy. Many of those studies, however, are not fully accepted by nutritionists because they see the research as incomplete. They want more studies that test larger groups of people for longer periods of time.
Nevertheless, researchers and doctors see soybean products as good for heart health and possibly as helpful in protection against cancer. Look at it this way: 1/2 cup of shelled edamame has 120 calories, 9 grams of fiber, 2.5 grams fat, 15 milligrams sodium,
11 grams protein, 13 grams carbs, and it provides vitamins C and A. Eat 'em up!
Other soy uses in our house? Soy-based whipped topping goes on top of some of our
strawberries. I like soy milk, flavored with chocolate malt. Ever tried avocado-edamame salsa? Hey, try it. You'll be soy happy you did.