New soybean makes splendid vegetable, forage

Vegetable soybeans, also called endamame (en-dah-MAH-may), have large beans that are harvested when still green. They are boiled and slipped out of their pods and added to everything from salads to succotash, including mixed vegetables, soups, stir-fried vegetables and casseroles.

They are an increasingly popular health food item in this country and standard fare in Asian countries.

ARS geneticist Thomas E. Devine, at the agency's Sustainable Agricultural Systems Laboratory at Beltsville, developed this vegetable giant. He named it "Moon Cake" to associate it with the sweet cakes sold at the autumn Chinese "Moon Cake Festival." He also wanted to recognize the Oriental roots of soybeans, since tasty moon cakes are often made partly with soybean paste and lotus or sesame seed.

At festival time — which was Sept. 11 in China this year — people gather spontaneously in parks or on beaches, carrying candle lanterns, to watch a full and beautiful moon. Festival-goers make a wish for love, since the "Man in the Moon" is a matchmaker in Chinese legends.

Moon Cake is the latest in a series of giant soybean plants Devine has developed, the others being for livestock grazing.

Farmers can sell Moon Cake's beans and then use leftover leaves and stems as a high-protein and bountiful forage for livestock like sheep or goats. Its tall growth should shade out weeds, helping organic farmers who can't use pesticides to control weeds.

Moon Cake isn't in the stores just yet. Companies need to apply to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for a license to market it. Then they'll need to increase the seed Devine can provide them, to obtain enough to sell to farmers.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.

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