The pea (Pisum sativum) comes in three major types: garden, mangetout (snow), and sugar snap. Garden peas have rounded pods that are usually slightly curved in shape. They have a smooth texture and vibrant green color. Inside the pods are green rounded pea seeds that are sweet and starchy in taste.

Mangetout (snow) peas are flatter than garden peas, and since they are not fully opaque, you can usually see the shadows of the flat pea seeds within. Sugar snap peas, a cross between garden and mangetout, have plump pods with a crisp, snappy texture. The pods of both mangetout and sugar snap peas are edible, and both have a slightly sweeter and cooler taste than the garden pea.

History of Peas

The exact history of the pea is un- known. The general consensus is that peas originated in the region that spans from the Near or Middle East across to Central Asia. The modern pea varieties were produced by centuries of cultivation and selection for certain desired characteristics in both Europe and Asia. In the nineteenth century, during the early development of the study of genetics, peas played an important role.

The monk and botanist Gregor Mendel used peas in his plant-breeding experiments. In the 1970’s, sugar snap peas were developed, the result of a cross between garden peas and mangetout (snow) peas. Today, almost 80 percent of the world’s pea crop is utilized as dried peas rather than as fresh peas.

This is the case in the UK, however, in the United States, this is reversed, as 90 percent of the peas are eaten as green peas. Wisconsin, Washington, and Minnesota are the biggest producers of green peas, while the Russian Federation and China are the leading producers of dried peas.

Nutritional Highlights Of Peas

All peas are lower in calcium and phosphorus than beans but provide similar levels of protein, carbohydrate, and fat. They are a good source of protein, B vitamins, and a variety of minerals, including phosphorus, manganese, magnesium, potassium, and iron. In addition, dried peas are an excellent source of dietary fiber, and green peas are a good source of vitamin C, vitamin K, and carotene, while dried peas contain very little of these nutrients.
As dried peas lack water, they are more calorie-dense than fresh peas.

Health Benefits of Peas

Dried peas provide the same sorts of health benefits as common beans. Green peas provide some additional nutrition (see above) and anti-oxidants.

How to Select and Store of Peas

Green peas are available in many forms: fresh pods, canned, frozen, and dried. As fresh pods, garden peas are generally available from the spring through to the onset of winter, and mangetout peas can usually be found throughout the year in supermarkets. Snap peas tend to be available only from late spring through to early summer.

Fresh peas should be refrigerated, since heat hastens the conversion of their sugar content into starch. For fresh garden peas, look for those whose pods are firm, velvety, and smooth and have a medium green, alive look. Reject peas whose green color is especially light or dark or those that are yellow, whitish, or mottled with gray. Also, avoid pods that are puffy, water- soaked, or have mildew residue. Pods should contain peas of sufficient number and size so that there is not much empty room in the pod.

Avoid pods that rattle when shaken as they may be nearly empty. Although garden peas are typically round, the pods of mangetout peas should look flat. Look for the shape of the peas through the translucent shiny pea pod. Generally, the smaller pods are younger and tend to be sweeter. To find quality, fresh sugar snap peas, snap one open and see whether it is crisp.

These should be bright green in color, firm, and plump. It is best to eat and enjoy fresh peas on the day you buy them. If this is not possible, it is best to refrigerate them as quickly as possible. Otherwise the sweet sugar will turn to starch rather quickly. Leave peas unwashed and unshelled and stored in the refrigerator in a perforated bag or unsealed container that will allow some air to circulate around the peas. They will keep for several days. Fresh peas can be blanched in boiling water for 1 to 2 minutes and subsequently frozen for up to six months.

Green Peas
Green Peas

Tips for Preparing Peas

Rinse pea pods briefly, then shell the peas by snapping or cutting off the top and bottom of the pod and removing the tough, undigestible “thread” of the pea pod. If the peas do not have this thread, you can cut the seam of the pod carefully, so as not to damage the tender peas inside. Peas removed from the pod are clean and do not need to be washed.

Rinse mangetout and sugar snap peas under cool water before using. You can eat mangetout and sugar snap peas raw, but cooking them will enhance their sweet character. One easy method is to blanch them for 1/2 to 1 minute (do so briefly to keep them green and fresh—looking), then remove them and plunge them into ice water to stop the cooking.

One traditional pea-cooking method is to use a few wet leaves of round head lettuce to line a saucepan and then pour the peas on top. Add some spices and herbs of your choice and cover with a second lettuce layer. Add 2 tablespoons of water, cover the pan, and cook the peas for 15 to 20 minutes over heat.

Quick Serving Ideas for Peas

• Peas enhance green salads.
• Blanch sugarsnap peas, sauté them with garlic and shiitake mushrooms, and serve them over brown rice.
• Combine drained peas, chopped apple, and onion in a bowl. Separately combine sour cream or soft tofu, horseradish, and salt and pepper to taste. Add to the salad, mix lightly, and top with freshly squeezed lemon juice.
• Green peas can be mixed with shredded chicken, diced onions, rapeseed-oil mayonnaise, almonds, raisins, and curry powder to make a delicious and colorful chicken salad.
• You can improve on canned split pea soup by adding fresh peas to enhance its flavor, texture, and nutrition.
• Fresh (or freeze-dried) pea pods are a healthy, portable snack food.

Safety of Peas

Peas contain small amounts of oxalate. Individuals with a history of oxalate-containing kidney stones should avoid over consuming them.