Urizun Japanese Winged bean is an early maturing and supremely delicious legume from Japan.
The precise origin of the winged bean is uncertain, though many researchers trace it to Papua, New Guinea and Indonesia, where many of its genetic variations exist, and it is widely embraced in Southeast Asian cuisines and cultures.
Baker Creek founder Jere Gettle first encountered winged bean (Psophocarpus tetragonolobus) on a trip to Thailand. He was fascinated by its unique shape and beautiful lavender-colored flowers, and he was eager to offer them in the Baker Creek catalogs.
But the winged bean is a tropical crop and requires a long growing season. In the climate of our Missouri farm, that meant the plants set pods just before frost.
Jere searched for years to find a variety like Urizun. Unlike most winged beans, Urizun isn’t daylength sensitive. The lush vines of this exotic edible ornamental develop pods in August, and keep going until frost.
In Japan, winged beans are known as “Shikakumame” (“square beans”) and are cultivated as a specialty product of Okinawa Prefecture. They are perennial plants by nature, but in Japan they are treated as annuals due to low winter temperatures. The peak harvest season is September to October.
Urizun winged bean was developed in the 1980s by Japan’s International Research Center for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries with the goal of creating an extended flowering and harvest season.
Seeds and seedlings are sold under trademarks such as “Urizu beans” and “Shikakumame” in Okinawa Prefecture, and marketed as “Ryukyu Square Beans” in mainland Japan. Very recently cultivation of these beans began on Japan’s Kyushu island, where seedlings are sold for home gardens.
The word “Urizun” is taken from the Ryukyu dialect, and translates as “the beginning of moisturizing.” It refers to the period from February to March in the lunar calendar and represents the period from the spring equinox to the beginning of the rainy season in Okinawa. In other words, “The dry winter months are over and moisture and humidity levels rise.” Unfortunately, this poetic term is rarely used in Okinawa today.
The pods of Urizun winged beans are slightly bitter, and they have a refreshing taste and texture. Pick and cook them when they are about four to five inches long.
Winged bean pods are traditionally blanched and stir fried with ume (pickled Japanese plum), but here at the Baker Creek trial kitchen we love to toss them into the wok! They’re also great steamed, prepared as tempura, or in soups. All parts of the Urizun winged beans — pods, flowers, leaves, ripe beans and underground tubers — are edible.
Sliced, the beans resemble little stars and can be a fun way to introduce kids to this nutritious vegetable, high in protein and other nutrients like phosphorus, iron and Vitamin B!
Find Urizun winged bean seeds here.