Taiwan-produced high-quality frozen processed edamame—green, immature soybeans still in the pod, widely consumed as bar food in Japan—has successfully fought off a challenge from mainland China and since 2008 has reclaimed top market share for imported edamame in Japan.
The strategy on which Taiwan edamame growers have relied can be summed up as “the four-hour freeze.” If edamame are frozen within four hours, then they taste remarkably fresh when consumed.
Behind the “four-hour freeze” lies the revolutionary transformation of Taiwan’s edamame industry. Every link in the chain is involved, from R&D into varieties to unprecedented scales of mechanized farming to improvements in processing. Last year frozen edamame exports hit 30,000 metric tons, generating US$60 million (NT$1.8 billion) in revenues, numbers that had for many years been thought to be forever out of reach.
In particular, the Kaohsiung #9 variety, known as “Green Crystal,” has performed exceptionally well, besting competitors from mainland China, Thailand, Indonesia, and the US, and has become a legend in its own time in the world of edamame.
February marks the spring crop cycle for edamame, which can be grown year-round and yields two harvests per year. We have come at this time to Qishan District in Kaohsiung, which, together with one other district in Kaohsiung and eight townships in Pingtung County, has since 2007 been designated by the Agriculture and Food Agency of the Council of Agriculture as a special export-production zone for edamame. This area, which generates over NT$1 billion per year in foreign-exchange income, has been dubbed “green gold territory.”
Hou Zaobai, though only 37, is already a veteran edamame farmer. Under a guidance program run by the Kaohsiung District Agricultural Research and Extension Station, since 2002 he has rented 220 hectares (ha) of land from the Taiwan Sugar Corporation for planting edamame (currently rent is NT$50,000 per year per hectare), making his farm an enormous operation in comparison to the average of about one hectare of arable land per farmer in Taiwan.
Farming at this scale has been an incredible boost for the productivity and international competitiveness of Taiwan’s edamame, and is a far cry from the image most people have of farm villages consisting exclusively of tiny fields cultivated by elderly farmers.