The Great Torontoist Challenge: Soybean Edition

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The Great Torontoist Challenge: Soybean Edition

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Photo by milowinningham.
Mmm, soy. From tofu, to sauce, to the good old bean form we will explore here, soy just tickles Torontoist something fierce. Full of healthy-slash-trendy properties, frozen soy beans are now widely available for home consumption. Though tempted to stick with edamame, or “twig-beans”, we wanted to—no pun intended—branch out to new territory. The results were varied—tasty, green, and sometimes, a little frightening. As the old, marginally related, Japanese proverb says, “tade kuu mushi mo sukizuki“.

The Contestants

All contestants, unless otherwise stipulated, are available at the super fantastic Sanko Trading Co., purveyors of all things Japanese, including foodstuffs, magazines and a wide variety of Hello Kitty branded snacks and trinketry.

  • Mizkan Fermented Soybeans. Founded in 1804, Mizkan began as producers of sake-based vinegars, and is one of the oldest companies in the world.
  • Wel-Pac Premium Edamame. Wel-Pac resides under the umbrella of Japan Food Canada, which resides under the umbrella of JFC International, which just so happens to also own Kikkoman, which we’re sure is, somehow, residing under the umbrella of Kevin Bacon.
  • Nissui Edamame. Nissui’s website confuses us with all its talk of marine life. What sort of fantastical under-the-sea style beans are these?
  • Seapoint Farms Edamame. Our only contestant not available at Sanko, Seapoint Farms has trademarked the term “Wonder Veggie” in reference to their edamame, which is available, for a fee, at Whole Foods Markets.

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The Criteria

  • Ease of preparation. Do they need to be cooked, thawed, nuked, beaten? And if so, for how long and how hard?
  • Appearance. Fresh and green? A good size? Whole pieces or falling apart? If not in pod-form, are they at least discernible as soy beans?
  • Consumability. In terms of extracting the bean from the pod—is the pod too thick, stringy, sealed shut? If already sans-pod, are we good with hands or are chopsticks necessary?
  • Flavour. If pre-salted, are the levels adequate? Do they taste like they’ve been frozen? Do you feel tasty healthiness seeping into your system whilst you snack?

Additional Criteria

A favourite for bartering, it is important to know what your beans are worth.
Nissui Edamame ($2.85); Wel-Pac Premium Edamame ($2.85); Mizkan Fermented Soybeans ($2.99); Seapoint Farms Edamame ($4.99).

Results

  • Ease of preparation. TIE: Nissui and Wel-Pac—3.5/5. Though not necessarily the quickest of our contestants, they were the easiest to prepare, with the least risk of bean-plosion.
  • Appearance. Nissui—4.5/5. The perfect level of edamame fuzz brought this contestant the crown.
  • Consumability. Nissui—4.5/5. A no-fight extractability situation.
  • Flavour. Nissui—4.5/5. This is no ordinary bean!

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Conclusions

Keeping with the spirit of adventure and soy-based exploration, we decided to take a step away from soy bean à la edamame and try out Mizkan’s Fermented Soybeans, also known as “yuukisaibaidaizu”. Oh boy. Granted, the only thing we were sure of, due to the almost complete lack of English on the packaging, was that this contained beans; otherwise, we didn’t know what we were in for. Edamame, this is not. That being said, soy beans should not be chained to pods, and these little buggers were definitely free of their fuzzy green prisons. So, how does this all work? Basically, Mizkan’s Fermented Soybeans come in a little snack-o-pack styro-container, which, upon opening, will defrost quite quickly. Once defrosted—it should be noted this took longer than the 30 minutes advised to us by the friendly Sanko staff—you add two mystery packets of sauce, one which appears to be a sort of miso-mustard and another that we’ll call “soy”. We, despite not really knowing why you’d wanted fermented beans, were looking forward to the taste experience in store. The flavour, however, was not enough to compensate for the fact that, for reasons unknown to Torontoist, this snack was covered in what can only be described as ectoplasm. Or worse. A bite of Mizkan’s offering, negotiated via chopstick, with an ecto-trail connecting your sticks to your plate, was beyond disconcerting texturally. The flavour had great potential, musty and subtle, with the sauces adding a hint of kick, but unfortunately, for both Mizkan and ourselves, we just couldn’t get past the goo.
Tied with Mizkan Fermented Soybeans at the bottom of the heap—surprising, perhaps, that they get to share that particular honour—is Seapoint Farms Edamame. As a rule for this challenge, we decided to go with the quickest preparation method available on the packaging, which, in Seapoint’s case, meant microwaving. We realize that “microwave times may vary”, however the near explosion that we averted after only two minutes on defrost—the instructions recommended five—meant our beans got off to a bad start. A lesson learned? Microwaved edamame turns kind of white and stringy-looking. Forging ahead, we found that while the beans were a bit of a struggle to extract, perhaps due to micro-melding, the flavour of the bean itself was very nice. Seapoint Farms are, as per the label, “lightly salted”, but they could just as easily make the claim that their edamame is “salted just the right amount”. With our serving almost finished, and Seapoint Farms near vindicated in our books, despite appearances and spastic preparation instructions, this contestant tripped up in a most unexpected fashion. If we may indulge in some similes, like a snake shedding its skin and a caterpillar emerging from its chrysalis, our second to last bean from Seapoint managed to “un-case” itself, so that the outer pod and inner pod came apart, leaving us with a mouth half full of shell. Ugh. Last impressions are, well, lasting, non?
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Before delving into how their “Premium” beans fared in our challenge, we would like to note that Wel-Pac makes quite a few different varieties and grades of edamame, all of which are available at our most beloved Sanko. We went for their Premium Edamame because we liked the look of the packaging and we figured, hey, it will be the best. Well, almost. Wel-Pac’s beans were the only ones that involved the stove, and while the extra pot and pannage could be discerned as fussy, the actual cooking time, of only five minutes, meant that our edamame was ready quickly and was delightfully warm when consumed. Once again, however, we found the cooking times suggested to be a bit too generous. While the risk of bean-plosion wasn’t present, our Wel-Pac Premium beans only required maybe half the cooking time, the results were quite…wrinkly. In fact, with their lack of fuzz and their wrinkled and rubbery appearance, these beans had a sort of “new-born baby” vibe about them that was a bit off-putting. Still, the beans were the easier to consume of all our contestants, with the pod, while slightly stringy, veritably melting apart to allow for premium extraction. With a pinch of fleur de sel, the taste of these beans was quite pleasant, and though, as stated above, the cook time went a bit over, we could see these beans being truly premium with a bit of preparation adjustment.
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Talk about no fuss edamame magic! All we had to do to get Nissui’s offering ready was throw it in a bowl of cool water for 15 minutes—admittedly, the packaging suggested putting the beans under running water, but we couldn’t bear the waste—sprinkle with a touch of salt and serve. We, at Torontoist, love us some fuzzy foods, and edamame are no exception. Imagine, then, our joy at discovering Nissui’s green pods covered in lovely wee bean hairs! The fun didn’t stop there, either. Other than being fibrous, the pods were an excellent shade of green which, though not completely flawless, was authentic and appetizing. The pods were not as “melt-in-your-mouth” as Wel-Pac’s, but there was certainly no fight or stringiness and the beans, once retrieved, and dans le bouche, were found to be cooked to fresh, crunchy, perfection. This contestant was so yummy that we’d venture that even if you didn’t sprinkle on some extra salt, you’d still enjoy the experience. We believe, based mostly on the fact that Sanko had about a dozen different brands represented, that there are people out there who prefer their soy beans to be fermented and slimy. And, while we do try to be as fearless and open as possible with our contestants, we just love our edamame too much to let any other form of bean take the top prize. To all you lovers of yuukisaibaidaizu out there, we have two Mizkan snack packs left over in our freezer, and are willing, heart wrenching though it may be, to share.
Photos of our contestants by Julie Reitsma.

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