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Arkansas Aims To Make Edamame As American As Apple Pie

Oct 16, 2013
Originally published on October 16, 2013 2:31 pm

Irene Adams cooks supper for husband, Luke, and 2-year-old son, Cole, at their home in Fayetteville, Ark. She used to serve lots of green beans, but switched to edamame after tasting it at a local restaurant.

"[Cole] used to split his green beans and take out the little seeds inside," Adams says. "So I told Luke we should try edamame, because it's bigger seeds and has more flavor, so that's why we decided to try it and he loves it."

Cole squeezes the bright green buttery beans out of the pod and pops them into his mouth. Edamame, it turns out, is a healthy finger food, high in fiber and protein.

China produces most of the world's edamame, handpicking and processing it there. Now lots of locally grown edamame are being packed in the town of Mulberry, Ark. Fresh-picked pods jiggle across a massive high-speed conveyor for automated sorting, washing, blanching and flash freezing.

A Texas-based Asian foods importer choose Arkansas to build its company, American Vegetable Soybean and Edamame Inc., here.. Raymond Chung, the chief financial officer, says one reason is because plenty of local farmers are willing to grow the nongenetically modified vegetable soybeans.

"The bulk of soybeans in the U.S. are [genetically modified] and grown for industrial purposes, but edamame is a special variety," he says.

Arkansas ranks 10th nationally for conventional soybeans and is the first to develop an edamame variety licensed for commercial production.

Linda Funk expects more states to follow Arkansas' lead. She's with the Iowa-based trade group Soyfoods Council.

"Most people when I tell them about edamame and say it's really a soybean, they are shocked," she says. "They just feel like it's a vegetable ... it's a more familiar food to them than maybe tofu or soy milk."

Like tofu, edamame is widely available in many major supermarket chains supplied by smaller producers in California, Minnesota and Ohio. The Soyfoods Association of North America says frozen edamame sales grew 4.3 percent from 2010 to 2011.

Arkansas processor Chung intends to be the top link in the chain. Since his factory opened last summer production has doubled. He now supplies Costco, Whole Foods and Sam's Clubs. "We are turning Arkansas into the edamame capital of the U.S. and eventually the capital of the world," he says.

And if Chung can get Cole Adams and millions of other kids to eat their vegetables? The town of Mulberry may have to change its name to Edamame.

Copyright 2013 KUAF-FM. To see more, visit http://www.kuaf.org.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Edamame beans are a popular Asian vegetable that are beginning to grab some market share here in the United States. Taste great with a little salt. China produces most of the world's edamame.

But as Jacqueline Froelich of member station KUAF reports, an Arkansas company is trying to get a piece of the action.

IRENE ADAMS: You cook the edamame, and you can sit here and eat it with mama?

JACQUELINE FROELICH, BYLINE: Irene Adams cooks supper for husband Luke and two-year-old son Cole at her home in Fayetteville, Arkansas. She used to serve lots of green beans, but switched to edamame after tasting it at a local restaurant.

I. ADAMS: He started splitting his green beans and picking out the little seeds inside, and so I told Luke, I said I don't know why I've never tried edamame before. We should just try that because, you know, it's bigger seeds and it's more enjoyable, actually has flavor, so that's why we decided to try it and he loves it.

COLE ADAMS: And I love it.

FROELICH: Cole squeezes the bright green buttery beans out of the pod and pops them into his mouth. Edamame, turns out, is a healthy finger food. High in fiber and protein.

Now lots of locally grown edamame is being packed two hours southeast of here, in the town of Mulberry.

(SOUNDBITE OF MACHINERY)

FROELICH: Fresh-picked pods jiggle across a massive high-speed conveyor for automated sorting, washing, blanching, and flash-freezing.

A Texas-based Asian foods importer chose Arkansas to build its company here. Chief financial officer Raymond Chung says one reason is because plenty of local farmers are willing to grow the non-genetically-modified vegetable soybean.

RAYMOND CHUNG: The bulk of soybeans in the U.S. are grown for industrial purposes. Edamame is a special variety.

FROELICH: Arkansas ranks 10th nationally for conventional soybeans and is the first to develop an edamame variety licensed for commercial production.

Linda Funk expects more states to follow Arkansas' lead. She's with the Iowa-based trade group Soyfoods Council.

LINDA FUNK: Most people, when I tell them about edamame and say that it's really a soybean, they are shocked. They just feel like it's a vegetable, so people feel like it's a more familiar food to them than maybe tofu or soymilk.

FROELICH: Like tofu, edamame is widely available in many major supermarket chains supplied by smaller producers in California, Minnesota and Ohio.

But Arkansas processor Raymond Chung intends to be the top link in the chain. Since his factory opened last summer, production has doubled. He now supplies Costco, Whole Foods and Sam's Clubs.

CHUNG: So we are turning Arkansas into the edamame capital of the USA and we eventually want to be the capital of the world.

C. ADAMS: I put it in my mouth.

I. ADAMS: Can you say vegetable?

C. ADAMS: Vegetable.

I. ADAMS: Can you say edamame?

C. ADAMS: Edamame.

FROELICH: And if Raymond Chung can get Cole Adams and millions of other kids to eat their vegetables, the town of Mulberry may have to change its name to Edamame.

For NPR News, I'm Jacqueline Froelich in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.