Linda Crampton is an experienced teacher with an honors degree in biology. She writes about nutrition and the culture and history of food.
A Useful and Nutritious Vegetable
Green peas are a tasty and very nutritious vegetable that should be a part of almost everyone's diet. They're a great source of protein, vitamins, minerals, and soluble fiber. They are also very versatile. They can be cooked and prepared in many different ways and can add flavor and interest to multiple dishes. Another advantage of peas is that they are often inexpensive to buy.
In addition to being a component of a meal, green peas can be used to make other foods, including soups, puddings, and porridge. They also make a great addition to items such as salads, stews, pies, pasta, and omelettes.
Peas have been cultivated for at least ten thousand years and have become a very popular vegetable. They have also inspired people to create stories and poems, which often have an imaginative, humorous, or playful theme. It may be a fun experience to trap peas as they roll around on a plate, but people should seriously consider making the vegetable part of their diet.
Like beans and other peas, green peas belong to the family Fabaceae, which used to be called the Leguminosae family. Beans and peas are said to be "legumes". In some parts of the world, they are known as pulses. Green peas are often referred to as a vegetable, however, because of their green color.
Types of Green Peas
The scientific name of the green pea plant is Pisum sativum. Many closely related varieties of the species exist. They have slightly different characteristics. Somewhat confusingly, the different varieties often have different common names.
Biologically, a pea pod is a fruit, and the peas inside are seeds. In some varieties of green pea, the pods are edible, and in others they aren't. Inedible pods have a fibrous inner layer that edible pods lack. The pod of the garden pea has this fibrous layer.
Some popular varieties of green pea are described below.
- Garden peas are the variety most often grown in gardens and the type most often found in stores and eaten, at least in North America. The term "green peas" generally refers to this variety.
- Snow peas have flat, edible pods. They are picked when their seeds are very small and are eaten whole. Snow peas are also known as Chinese pea pods and are often eaten raw or stir-fried.
- Sugar snap peas also have edible pods and are eaten whole. The pods are sweeter and rounder than snow pea pods and have a crunchy texture when raw.
- Marrowfat peas are green peas with unusually large and starchy seeds.
- Yellow peas are varieties of the green pea plant that have yellow seeds instead of green ones.
Split peas are dried peas that have been allowed to split naturally into two sections or are helped to do so mechanically. They are produced from both green and yellow varieties of the pea plant.
The most nutritious and delicious peas are ones that are homegrown and freshly picked. Good versions can sometimes be found at farmers markets or natural food stores. Sometimes grocery stores sell a reasonable version, though it may not be as fresh as the previous types.
When fresh peas are unavailable or when convenience is desired, frozen, dried, or canned versions can be used instead. These are available in stores all year, so the vegetable can always be part of the diet. If a canned version is used, it's a good idea to look for a product that has no added sugar and salt and is sold in a can made of safe materials.
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Like other legumes, green peas are a good source of protein. Three quarters of a cup of green peas contains about the same amount of protein as an egg (around six grams). Peas are very low in fat. Since they are part of a plant, they contain no cholesterol. Cholesterol is only found in animal bodies.
Peas do contain some natural sugars, but the amount isn't excessive (four grams per half cup of the vegetable). They are a good source of soluble fiber, which, like the sugar family, is a type of carbohydrate. Soluble fiber may help to lower the LDL cholesterol level in the blood when eaten frequently. It may also lower a high blood sugar or blood glucose level.
Vitamins and Minerals
Raw peas are loaded with vitamins and minerals. They are an excellent source of vitamins C and K. Some of the vitamin C is lost when peas are cooked, however. Green peas are also a very good source of vitamin A (in the form of beta-carotene), thiamine, and folate. They contain lesser but significant amounts of niacin, vitamin B6, and riboflavin (vitamin B2). A small amount of healthy fat eaten at the same time as peas will enhance the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamins A and K.
Vitamin C and vitamins in the B family are water-soluble. This means that cooking peas in a lot of water for a long time isn't a good idea. Water-soluble vitamins leach out of the peas into the surrounding water.
Green peas are high in manganese and are a significant source of phosphorus, copper, zinc, magnesium, and iron. They are low in sodium.
Green peas can be eaten raw. Some people love the taste of the uncooked version. Raw peas are also eaten after they have sprouted. The vegetable is often paired with carrots, which produces an attractive combination of colours and a nutritious and tasty mixture.
Phytonutrients or Phytochemicals
Peas also contain phytonutrients. Phytonutrients, or phytochemicals, are substances in plants that aren't essential for our survival but may have health benefits, such as helping to prevent disease. One important type of phytonutrient in green peas is the flavonoid group, which belongs to the polyphenol family. Flavonoids are antioxidants and may reduce the risk of several diseases.
Researchers need to determine whether a typical serving of peas contains a significant amount of each phytonutrient and whether the chemicals can be absorbed into our body from our small intestine. The researchers also need to discover whether the phytonutrients are beneficial once they are in the body. The initial discoveries look promising.
Yorkshire pudding is a baked product made from eggs, flour, and milk. The pudding is often eaten with gravy and meat.
Cooking Green Peas
Green peas can be boiled, steamed, stir-fried, fried, or microwaved. They can also be baked in foods such as quiches and savory pies.
In some parts of the world, roasted peas are very popular. I've never tasted this version of the vegetable, but the roasted product is reportedly nutty, crunchy, and delicious. The peas are often mixed with spices before being cooked, which likely adds to their enjoyable flavor.
Cooked peas are often processed further, such as by being pureed or mashed. They are also mixed with other ingredients to make many different foods, including soups, stews, casseroles, fish cakes, curries, pastas, omelettes, and salads.
In general, cooking peas at a lower temperature, for a shorter time, and with less water preserves more of their nutrients. This is why steaming vegetables is considered to be a healthier cooking method than boiling. If peas are boiled, they should be covered with the minimum amount of water needed and simmered for only a few minutes.
Tartar sauce contains mayonnaise, pickles, herbs, and sometimes other ingredients. It’s often served with fish, as in the meal shown in the photo above.
Mushy peas are often eaten with fish and chips. They have a soft texture that resembles that of a thick, puréed product. Soft, semi-intact peas are present in the mush. I love the taste of mushy peas. Whenever I buy a serving of fish and chips from a restaurant near my home, I order mushy peas as well.
The product can be made at home as well as bought in restaurants and stores. Products that are bought may have artificial color added, which can give them an unnatural, bright green appearance. I like to avoid this sight if I can.
Mushy peas are generally made from marrowfat peas, which easily turn into a mush. Marrowfat peas are usually sold in a dried form but are sometimes sold in cans. To make mushy peas, the dried vegetables are soaked overnight in water containing a small amount of sodium bicarbonate (one teaspoon per cup of peas). On the next day, they are rinsed in cold water and placed in a saucepan with fresh water. They are then boiled gently for thirty to sixty minutes—or longer—until they turn into a mush.
With the right ingredients, pea soup can be both nourishing and delicious. The soup can range from a simple blend of peas, seasonings, and water to a more complex and hearty mixture containing additional vegetables. Ham may be added as well.
Ingredients that are often added to pea soups are carrots, celery, potatoes, onions, garlic, salt, pepper, and water. Bay leaves or thyme are frequently included, too.
Cream is sometimes swirled over the surface of the soup as a finishing touch. Small crackers or biscuits may be used for a topping instead of cream.
Sprouted, blanched, or cooked and chilled peas are added to salads. Blanching is a technique in which a vegetable is plunged into boiling water, left there for a very short time, and then removed and quickly chilled to halt the cooking process. Frozen peas bought in a store are already blanched. The process stops the action of enzymes that can alter the flavor or color of the peas.
Pea salads often contain a mixture of peas, cheese, celery, nuts, onion, herbs, pepper, and salt. Mayonnaise or salad dressing is added for a creamy salad. Some people like to add other ingredients, such as hard boiled egg, tomato, bell pepper, bacon bits, diced apple, garlic, lemon juice, or a flavorful vinegar.
Pease Pudding, Porridge, or Pottage
Pease was the Middle English name for pea. The plural word was peasen. Pease pudding or porridge is made from green or yellow peas and has a smooth texture similar to that of a thick pea sauce. It was popular in the Middle Ages, when it was known as a pease pottage. It's still enjoyed in some parts of the world today, including parts of the United Kingdom. It often contains pork as well as peas.
Some communities in the UK are named in honor of peas. For example, Pease Pottage is a village in West Sussex and Peasenhall is a village in Suffolk. The Peasenhall Pea Festival was until 2014 an annual event. The festival involved music, food, games, and contests. It offered pea eating and throwing contests as well as the World Pea Podding Championship. A pea-themed costume contest was also held. Among the other culinary delights that were available at one festival was a pea, mint, and honey ice cream. The combination of flavors sounds interesting. Perhaps the festival will be resurrected one day.
Pease porridge hot,
Pease porridge cold,
Pease porridge in the pot
Nine days old;
Some like it hot,
Some like it cold,
Some like it in the pot
Nine days old.
Poems About Peas
Peas are a very popular vegetable, so it's not surprising that people have written poems about them. The poems are often humorous, just like the sight of peas rolling over a surface.
The origins and author of the pease porridge poem are unknown. The poem as shown above was published in 1916 in a children's rhyme book called The Real Mother Goose. This book can be read at the Project Gutenberg website. The poem was published in a slightly different form in 1760 in a book called The Original Mother Goose's Melody by John Newbery. This book can be read at the Google Books website.
Similarly, the date of origin and the writer of the poem shown below about eating peas with honey are unknown. According to the Poetry Foundation, the poem was recited at a 1944 radio broadcast in the United States. However, the author wasn't announced. The poem may have been created earlier.
I eat my peas with honey;
I've done it all my life.
It makes the peas taste funny,
But it keeps them on the knife.
A Food Fantasy
I wrote the poem below. It's a fantasy that describes the adventures of a miniature man in a large tureen of green pea soup. I still enjoy the amusing aspects of peas that entertained me as a child. I also enjoy their taste. They are an interesting and useful vegetable.
The Man in the Green Pea Soup
The man was looking quite green
As he swam within the tureen
Until he spied a few peas ahead
He climbed on a green pea boat
And shook out his lavender coat
Before eating some pumpkin bread
Then onion fish bit all his toes
And salt water licked his poor nose
Leaving him sore and red
Carrots surfed over the waves
And gathered in celery caves
To consider the words that he said
"You sneezed in the soup you know"
the carrots complained full of woe
as they bobbed in the salty waves
"I didn't!" he cried loud and clear
And retreated from garlic in fear
As it bounced over and started to shed
Pepper flew over the salt
And tickled his nose with a jolt
Creating sneezes that filled his head
The sneezes wriggled and twirled
So he held a tissue unfurled
"I'm ready if you are" he said
Sneezes left in disgust
Surprise for them was a must
The man cheered aloud once they'd fled
Potatoes lined up to parade
Carrots spun round as they played
And the man rode on peas as they sped
Then bay leaves sailed in from the west
With thyme-woven mats for a nest
And carried him off to bed
- Facts about Pisum sativum from the Missouri Botanical Garden
- Nutrients in raw green peas from the United States Department of Agriculture, or USDA
- "Green Peas: A Vitamin Powerhouse" from WebMD
- Information about soluble and insoluble fiber in food from WebMD
- The importance of dietary fiber from the Mayo Clinic
Questions & Answers
Question: What is the botanical name of the green pea?
Answer: The scientific name of the green or garden pea is "Pisum Sativum." The plant belongs to the family Fabaceae, also known as the family Leguminosae.
Question: Which form of cooking depletes the Vitamin C in Green Peas most?
Answer: Vitamin C dissolves in water and is destroyed by heat, so boiling is considered to be the most harmful form of cooking with respect to the preservation of the vitamin. Steaming and microwaving are often said to be better cooking methods for retaining Vitamin C.
© 2014 Linda Crampton