One of the world’s top producers of soya beans, the US has traditionally only used the crop in livestock feed and to produce cooking oil, but a number of farmers across the country are now planting with meat-reducers in mind.
While oil and feed are made from soya beans that are left to dry in the fields, edamame, popular in Asian cuisine, come from pods that are picked earlier, so the beans and green and tender.
A lack of processing facilities has been a factor in poor take-up of edamame farming thus far, since the young beans need to be processed quickly after being picked.
But as growing numbers of Americans turn away from meat, which is becoming increasingly expensive in the US, as well as costly in environmental and health terms, that may be about to change.
Harry Balzer of the consumer market research company NPD Group, confirmed that more people were shopping for cheaper meat-free alternatives.
“If you can make my proteins cheaper by providing me with an alternative protein source, I think you have a wider market because now you’re talking about money saved,” Balzer told Associated Press.
Ray Chung, who runs an edamame-processing plant in Arkansas, added that “soy[a] has not historically been viewed as being an edible crop in the US”, but that things were changing “with more people becoming aware of Asian foods like tofu and edamame… and more people adopting plant-based diets”.
He told AP that other countries were also interested in US-farmed edamame, which he suggests has a rosy future stateside.
“There’s a big middle class that’s emerging in China and they’re becoming more educated about food choices,” he said. “And so, to them, when they see a `Made in the USA’ label, they want it.”