The humble soybean is responsible for many ingredients in Asian cuisine including edamame, soy milk, tofu, miso and soy sauce. It is at the heart of delicious dishes as varied as Chanko Nabe (Sumo Hot Pot), Dry Wonton Noodles and Miso Grilled Chicken.
First farmed in China in around 1100 BC, soy bean has become an important crop across the world with the USA, Brazil, Argentina, China and India being the main producers today – you can click here to read more about the history and uses of soybean.
Soybean is an annual legume that likes to grow in warm weather, the ideal temperature being between 20-30°C and they grow best in alluvial soil.
If you want to harvest a crop at home, you should grow four to eight soybean plants per each household member. They are best planted in the backyard vegetable patch, as this amount would be too big for small containers. Plant seeds about 5cm deep with a space of 10cm between each.
The ideal sowing time is mid-spring, a few weeks after the last frost of winter, and they can still be planted up until the start of summer in cooler regions.
They will grow from seed to maturity in just 90 days and will end up being around 90 cm to 1 metre tall. The hairy, fuzzy pods are where the food action is at and they grow to about 10 cm long in clusters of three to five, with each pod hosting two to four seeds and you should harvest in the summer.
For edamame, you can harvest when the pods are green and plump, which should be around 60 days after sowing. It is important to know that soybeans should NOT be eaten raw. Blanch green soy beans in boiling water for a few minutes then plunge into an ice bath. Once cooled, you can eat as a snack or add some colour and nutty flavour to dishes with vegetables such as Soba Noodle Salad and Hijiki no Nimono.
For dry soybeans, harvest at around 90-100 days. You should pull out the whole plant and hang it upside down to dry. Shell the pods to reveal the beans when pods are totally dry. Dried and shelled soy beans can be stored in a cool, dry place for 10 to 12 months. You can use them at any time to make soy milk and tofu at home and create authentic Asian dishes such as Steamed Tofu with Snow Peas and Oysters Sauce and Kimchi and silken tofu soup.
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