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.
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