Grown Here at Home: Virginia Tech researchers playing key role in U.S. edamame production

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BLACKSBURG, Va. (WDBJ7) - Inside the Sensory Lab at Virginia Tech they’re prepping for another round of research using edamame.

“Edamame has become the second largest soy food in the United States,” said Assistant Professor Bo Zhang.

About 25,000 to 30,000 tons are consumed in the United States.

“However, at least 75 percent of edamame is imported from China and other countries,” Zhang said.

That’s where Virginia Tech researchers are hoping to change things. The four-year research they’re doing is dedicated to finding the best varieties of edamame that can be grown here. And they’ve been working with local farmers. Zhang says one of the farmers even supplies edamame to the Blacksburg Farmers Market and says he sees the potential profit.

“We expect to see an increase of consumption in production of domestically produced edamame and we hope to one day in the near future we’ll help the U.S. to become the major edamame supplier in the international market,” explained Zhang.

As part of the research volunteers are asked to give their feedback on the edamame.

“We ask consumers to taste the samples, and then give their first reaction about the product itself. So they smell, they talk about overall liking, they talk about sweetness, which is a very important attribute for edamame beans,” explained PhD student Renata Carneiro.

The feedback from the volunteers will help researchers improve the flavor, the product, and the plant structure.

“It’s really important to understand what consumers here want – their perspective – what kind of size of beans, what kind of flavor they prefer. We have a different and diverse population in this country so we need to get a better understanding of what they want,” Carneiro said.