The princess can attest—peas belong on our plates, not under our mattresses. But for some, peas are not always welcome on the plate, either. Disdainful memories of olive-colored, overcooked canned peas have left them on the “no, thanks” list for many. But they deserve another look! Like with most produce, the fresher, the better. And if you ever get a chance to taste peas fresh from the garden, you’ll be hooked. Delicately sweet and packed with powerful protein, fresh peas are a great addition to salads, soups, pies, and more.
English peas are rarely sold fresh, but are often found in bags in the frozen food section or canned. If you do happen to find them fresh, you’ll recognize them right away by their slightly curved pods. These smooth-skinned, bright green vegetables usually have four to six peas inside.
While this article focuses on English peas, other varieties you may find in the store include hearty snap peas and snow peas (sometimes called sugar peas). Snap peas are bigger than English peas, with plump, velvety pods of deep green. Snow peas are flat and slender, with light green, slightly transparent skins. Both the pods and the peas of snap peas and snow peas are edible.
Some people associate peas with bland flavor because canned peas are often overcooked, rendering them mushy, and frozen peas are sometimes undercooked, in which case they’re hard and starchy. But fresh peas have a delicate sweetness and can add a layer of freshness to leafy salads, Asian dishes, and cream-heavy French cuisine.
Frozen peas are readily available throughout the year in US supermarkets, but fresh peas can be hard to find. Other varieties, such as snap peas and snow peas, are more widely found fresh in Asian markets from early spring to late fall.
Fresh peas are usually available spring through early winter in the US, and early spring through early fall in Europe.
You’ll likely have to buy fresh garden peas frozen or canned, as less than 10 percent of the peas grown are sold fresh. The general consensus is that frozen peas hold flavor, texture, and color better than canned peas.
When deciding whether to purchase organic or non-organic produce, it’s helpful to know which fruits and vegetables are most affected by pesticides. Pesticides are toxins used to kill insects, invasive plants, and fungi during the growth of produce, and are potentially dangerous to people. National and international agencies agree that prolonged exposure to specific pesticides through food consumption is a potential health risk. Additionally, some studies indicate that organic fruits and vegetables have a higher concentration of vitamins and minerals than conventionally raised produce.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an environmental health advocacy and research organization in the United States. From cosmetics to produce, water to cleaning products, EWG provides insight regarding the impact of pesticides, manufacturing practices, and product ingredients on our health and environment. EWG produces a consumer guide ranking 48 fruits and vegetables with pesticide residue. The higher the rank, the lower the residue. In this ranking, the 12 most affected fruits and vegetables belong to the “Dirty Dozen,” and the 15 least affected are part of the “Clean Fifteen”. These lists help identify the produce that is most—and least—dramatically affected by pesticides.
While English garden peas don’t appear on the EWG’s “Dirty Dozen” produce list, a close variety, imported snap peas, rank at #15. So choose organic peas when possible.
The Environmental Working Group and Yoffie Life stress that consuming conventionally grown vegetables and fruits when the organic version is unavailable or financially impossible is far better than eating none at all.
Keep fresh peas in the pod in a perforated plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to five days. Shell just prior to use.
For frozen peas, pay close attention the expiration date on the package, and use before that date. On average, expect frozen peas to last about 12 to 18 months. Use canned peas within 1 to 3 months.
Rinse fresh pea pods under cool, running water to remove any traces of dirt. Snap off the ends of the pod, then pull or cut the “thread” (a thin, fibrous band of plant tissue that runs along the length of the pea pod) along the pod seam. Separate the pod and remove the delicate peas.
To freeze fresh peas, rinse and shell them, then blanch for about two minutes. Store them in a freezer-safe container or plastic bag for up to a year.
When cooking fresh or frozen peas in a recipe, they should be tender in about 15 minutes.
Canned and frozen peas often contain excess sodium because of the processing methods, so always rinse them well before adding to recipes.
This immune-system-building vitamin offers a host of benefits. Vitamin C is an important nutrient necessary for collagen production, and is essential for maintaining the integrity and function of skin and bone tissue. Vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant, fighting free radicals and protecting the heart, kidneys, and lungs from disease. This essential nutrient, often found in large amounts in citrus fruits and raw vegetables, may play a role in reducing systolic blood pressure and heart disease risk.
Vitamin K, specifically vitamin K2, is helpful for regulating and directing dietary calcium in and out of the bones. It is also responsible for proper blood clotting and may aid in protecting the arteries from calcification.
The majority of the manganese in the body is stored in the bones and organ tissue, mainly the liver and kidneys. Manganese is responsible for production and maintenance of sex hormones, blood-sugar regulation, brain and nerve function, calcium regulation and absorption, and carbohydrate metabolism.
Thiamine, or vitamin B1, plays an active role in metabolizing carbohydrates into a useable form of energy. B1 also contributes toward proper nerve function and acts as a coenzyme to convert ketones into other coenzymes necessary for cell metabolism.
B9 (Folate or Folic Acid)
An important nutrient necessary for normal cell division during pregnancy and infancy, folic acid (vitamin B9) plays a powerful role in the developing infant. For adults, vitamin B9 is also essential for proper metabolism, aiding in energy and the production of red blood cells.
In addition to their high vitamin and mineral content, peas are a great source of protein. In fact, one 100-calorie serving of peas has more protein than an egg! Composed of amino acids (building blocks of protein), this essential nutrient aids in healing wounds and growth of hair, skin, and nails; provides a substantial amount of energy and satiation; catalyzes metabolic reactions; and promotes a healthy hormonal and immune system response.
- Peas have been a staple in Asian and French cuisine for more than 1,000 years, but historical references suggest their origin is along the Nile Delta in Africa.
- English peas are actually legumes in an immature state. A ripe pea is closer to a yellow color.
- Some chefs seek the truest flavor of peas by growing their own and picking right before preparation, because the peas’ flavor changes shortly after they’re removed from the vine.