History of Edamame, Green Vegetable Soybeans, and Vegetable-Type Soybeans

William Shurtleff, Akiko AoyagiISBN: 978-1-928914-24-2

Publication Date: 2009 July 9

Number of References in Bibliography: 2,025

Earliest Reference: 1275

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Chronology of Edamame and Green Vegetable Soybeans

        A.D. 100 - The term Sheng dadou [Chinese characters: raw/fresh + large + bean] appears in both Shennong bencao jing (Classical pharmacopoeia of Shen Nung) and later (about A.D. 450-500) in the Mingyi bielu (A critical record of famous doctors. A materia medica). However a careful analysis of the context by a Chinese scholar who is an expert in the history of Chinese foods and of soybeans (H.T. Huang, PhD) indicates that this term refers to raw soybeans rather than fresh green soybeans.

         1175? – The Lu You Shiju [Poems of Lu You] contains three poems in a row that mention doujia (literally beans + pods). It is very possible that this is an early Chinese term for edamame – which would be a big discovery. But we must be careful since this is a book of poems. 

        1275 July 26 - The word "edamamé" first appears in Japan when the well-known Buddhist saint Nichiren Shônin writes a note thanking a parishioner for the edamamé he left at the temple. In: Nichiren Shonin Gosho Zenshu (The Collected Writings of Saint Nichiren).

        1980 Sept. - The sushi "boom" in California begins when the very popular TV miniseries and epic drama Shogun, based on the novel by James Clavell, created a great interest in traditional Japanese culture among Americans. With the sushi, they drank Japanese beer and saké. In America, beer is usually served with peanuts. But, true to tradition, Japanese restaurants served edamamé, free of charge, with the beer. Atsuko Kanai of Mutual Trading Co. recalls: "It was a mass sampling of the edamamé without people having ordered it! So the success of sushi, Japanese beers, Japanese saké, and edamamé, are all tied in together."

        1991 June - Yamato Flight Kitchen of Burlingame, California, starts serving edamame on Japan Airlines flights from San Francisco to Japan.

        1991 Aug. 5 - An article in the St. Paul Pioneer Press (Minnesota) states that Jameson-Williams' company name has been changed to Minnesota Edamame Co. The Nishimoto Trading Co. of Tokyo likes the taste and look of these green soybeans so much that they decided last week to place more than $100,000 worth of their bagging and packaging equipment in the Minnesota Edamame plant. In September, Minnesota Edamame will start using Nishimoto's equipment to ship 1 million pounds of partially processed immature soybeans to Japan. That's a big jump from the 7,000 pounds shipped in 1988. Minnesota Edamame has contracts to supply Nishimoto with 3 million pounds of the soybeans from the 1992 Minnesota crop, 6 million pounds in 1993 and 15 million pounds by 1996. Unfortunately, quality problems in Minnesota prevented these rosy predictions from coming true.

        1994 April - The first bibliography devoted to green vegetable soybeans, with 489 references, compiled by Shurtleff and Aoyagi, is published by Soyfoods Center in Lafayette, California. It is extensively annotated.

        1994 May 27 - Tak Kimura ("Mr. Edamamé"), a food broker from Concord, California, introduces Eda Mame, America's first refrigerated, ready-to-eat edamamé - first sold at Whole Foods Market in Berkeley, California. 8 ounces of precooked, lightly salted green soybeans are packed in a plastic tray with a clear film lid by Yamato Flight Kitchen of Burlingame, California. In Oct. 1994 the first local supermarket to carry Tak's product was Mollie Stone's, an upscale supermarket with six stores in the San Francisco Bay Area. In Feb. 1998 Safeway supermarkets in Northern California become the first large supermarket chain to carry this product, again with Tak Kimura as the broker. By Jan. 2000 this edamamé product was served on United Airlines. Wholesale sales grew from $18,000 in 1994 to more than $540,000 in 1998. In 1998 the market for edamame in the USA (especially on the West Coast) exploded!

        1994 July 1 - Minnesota Edamame is renamed SunRich Foods. Their 1994 edamame crop is a record 750,000 lb - but still not enough to meet demand.

        Other important "firsts" among commercial products after 1990: 1995 Jan. - Sweet Beans (SunRich Inc., Minnesota). 1996 Jan. - Freshlike Baby Broccoli Blend (with 40% green soybeans; Dean Foods Vegetable Co.). 1996 Dec. - Frozen Organic Sweet Beans (Sno Pac Foods, Inc.). 1997 June - Birds Eye Baby Broccoli Blend (Dean Foods Vegetable Co.). 1997 Sept. - Trader Joe's Edamame (frozen in the pods, imported from China by Seaside Farms). 1998 Feb. - Cold Mountain Eda-Mame (Mutual Trading Co., Inc., frozen). 1999 April - Edamame - Blanched Soybeans (retail or foodservice; Seapoint Farms, formerly Seaside Farms). 1999 Aug. - Melissa's Soybeans (Edamame) (Melissa's World Variety Produce). 1999 Oct. - Edamamé (Frieda's, Inc.). 2000 May - Freeze-Dried Green Soybeans in Salsa, Indian Spice, and Sweet & Sour flavors (Eat Your Heart Out, New York; the first freeze-dried and the first flavored or spicy edamame).

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History of Tender Soybean Leaves Used as Food

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