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|Peas are contained within a pod|
|Pea plant: Pisum sativum|
The pea is most commonly the small spherical seed or the seed-pod of the pod fruit Pisum sativum. Each pod contains several peas. Peapods are botanically a fruit, since they contain seeds developed from the ovary of a (pea) flower. However, peas are considered to be a vegetable in cooking. The name is also used to describe other edible seeds from the Fabaceae such as the pigeon pea (Cajanus cajan), the cowpea (Vigna unguiculata), and the seeds from several species of Lathyrus.
P. sativum is an annual plant, with a life cycle of one year. It is a cool season crop grown in many parts of the world; planting can take place from winter to early summer depending on location. The average pea weighs between 0.1 and 0.36 grams. The immature peas (and in snow peas the tender pod as well) are used as a vegetable, fresh, frozen or canned; varieties of the species typically called field peas are grown to produce dry peas like the split pea shelled from the matured pod. These are the basis of pease porridge and pea soup, staples of medieval cuisine; in Europe, consuming fresh immature green peas was an innovation of Early Modern cuisine.
The wild pea is restricted to the Mediterranean basin and the Near East. The earliest archaeological finds of peas date from the neolithic era of current Syria, Turkey and Jordan. In Egypt, early finds date from ca. 4800–4400 BC in the Nile delta area, and from ca. 3800–3600 BC in Upper Egypt. The pea was also present in Georgia in the 5th millennium BC. Farther east, the finds are younger. Peas were present in Afghanistan ca. 2000 BC, in Harappa, Pakistan, and in northwest India in 2250–1750 BC. In the second half of the 2nd millennium BC, this pulse crop appears in the Gangetic basin and southern India.
A pea is a most commonly green, occasionally purple or golden yellow, pod-shaped vegetable, widely grown as a cool season vegetable crop. The seeds may be planted as soon as the soil temperature reaches 10 °C (50 °F), with the plants growing best at temperatures of 13 to 18 °C (55 to 64 °F). They do not thrive in the summer heat of warmer temperate and lowland tropical climates, but do grow well in cooler, high altitude, tropical areas. Many cultivars reach maturity about 60 days after planting.
|Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)|
|Energy||339 kJ (81 kcal)|
|- Sugars||5.7 g|
|- Dietary fibre||5.1 g|
|Vitamin A equiv.||38 μg (5%)|
|- beta-carotene||449 μg (4%)|
|- lutein and zeaxanthin||2593 μg|
|Thiamine (vit. B1)||0.3 mg (26%)|
|Riboflavin (vit. B2)||0.1 mg (8%)|
|Niacin (vit. B3)||2.1 mg (14%)|
|Pantothenic acid (B5)||0.1 mg (2%)|
|Vitamin B6||0.2 mg (15%)|
|Folate (vit. B9)||65 μg (16%)|
|Vitamin C||40.0 mg (48%)|
|Calcium||25.0 mg (3%)|
|Iron||1.5 mg (12%)|
|Magnesium||33.0 mg (9%)|
|Phosphorus||108 mg (15%)|
|Potassium||244 mg (5%)|
|Zinc||1.2 mg (13%)|
|Percentages are relative to
US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient Database
Peas have both low-growing and vining cultivars. The vining cultivars grow thin tendrils from leaves that coil around any available support and can climb to be 1–2 m high. A traditional approach to supporting climbing peas is to thrust branches pruned from trees or other woody plants upright into the soil, providing a lattice for the peas to climb. Branches used in this fashion are sometimes called pea brush. Metal fences, twine, or netting supported by a frame are used for the same purpose. In dense plantings, peas give each other some measure of mutual support. Pea plants can self-pollinate.
There are many varieties (cultivars) of garden peas. Some of the most common varieties are listed here. PMR indicates some degree of powdery mildew resistance; afila types have clusters of tendrils instead of leaves.
- Alaska, 55 days (smooth seeded)
- Thomas Laxton / Laxton's Progress / Progress #9, 60-65 days
- Mr. Big, 60 days, 2000 AAS winner
- Little Marvel, 63 days, 1934 AAS winner
- Early Perfection, 65 days
- Kelvedon Wonder, 65 days, 1997 RHS AGM winner
- Sabre, 65 days, PMR
- Homesteader / Lincoln, 67 days ( heirloom, known as Greenfeast in AU, NZ)
- Serge, 68 days, PMR, afila
- Wando, 68 days
- Green Arrow, 70 days
- Tall Telephone / Alderman, 75 days (heirloom, tall climber)
Other variations of P. sativum include:
- Pisum sativum var. macrocarpon is commonly known as the snow pea.
- Pisum sativum var. macrocarpon ser. cv. is known as the sugar or snap pea.
Both of these are eaten whole before the pod reaches maturity and are hence also known as mange-tout, French for "eat all". The snow pea pod is eaten flat, while in sugar/snap peas, the pod becomes cylindrical, but is eaten while still crisp, before the seeds inside develop.
Pests and diseases
A variety of diseases affect peas through a number of pathogens, including insects, viruses, bacteria and fungi. In particular, virus disease of peas has worldwide economic importance.
Additionally, insects such as the pea leaf weevil (Sitona lineatus) can damage peas and other pod fruits. The pea leaf weevil is native to Europe, but has spread to other places such as Alberta, Canada. They are about 3.5 millimetres (0.14 in)—5.5 millimetres (0.22 in) long and are distinguishable by three light-coloured stripes running length-wise down the thorax. The weevil larvae feed on the root nodules of pea plants, which are essential to the plants' supply of nitrogen, and thus diminish leaf and stem growth. Adult weevils feed on the leaves and create a notched, "c-shaped" appearance on the outside of the leaves.
In early times, peas were grown mostly for their dry seeds. From plants growing wild in the Mediterranean basin, constant selection since the Neolithic dawn of agriculture improved their yield. In the early 3rd century BC Theophrastus mentions peas among the pulses that are sown late in the winter because of their tenderness. In the first century AD Columella mentions them in De re rustica, and Roman legionaries still gathered wild pisi from the sandy soils of Numidia and Palestine, to supplement their rations.
In the Middle Ages, field peas are constantly mentioned, as they were the staple that kept famine at bay, as Charles the Good, count of Flanders noted explicitly in 1124. In the 13th century the poet Guillaume de Villeneuve noted
- J'ay pois en cosse touz noviaux
among the street cries of Paris.
Green "garden" peas, eaten immature and fresh, were an innovative luxury of Early Modern Europe. In England, the distinction between "field peas" and "garden peas" dates from the early 17th century: John Gerard and John Parkinson both mention garden peas. Sugar peas, which the French soon called mange-tout, for they were consumed pods and all, were introduced to France from the market gardens of Holland in the time of Henri IV, through the French ambassador. Green peas were introduced from Genoa to the court of Louis XIV of France in January 1660, with some staged fanfare; a hamper of them were presented before the King, and then were shelled by the Sovoyan comte de Soissons, who had married a niece of Cardinal Mazarin; little dishes of peas were then presented to the King, the Queen, Cardinal Mazarin and Monsieur, the king's brother. Immediately established and grown for earliness warmed with manure and protected under glass, they were still a luxurious delicacy in 1696, when Mme de Maintenon and Mme de Sevigné each reported that they were "a fashion, a fury."
Modern split peas, with their indigestible skins rubbed off, are a development of the later 19th century.
Modern culinary use
|Yellow split peas|
|Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)|
|Energy||1,425 kJ (341 kcal)|
|- Sugars||8 g|
|- Dietary fibre||26 g|
|Thiamine (vit. B1)||0.7 mg (61%)|
|Pantothenic acid (B5)||1.7 mg (34%)|
|Folate (vit. B9)||274 μg (69%)|
|Iron||4 mg (31%)|
|Percentages are relative to
US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient Database
In modern times peas are usually boiled or steamed, which breaks down the cell walls and makes the taste sweeter and the nutrients more bioavailable. Along with broad beans and lentils, these formed an important part of the diet of most people in the Middle East, North Africa and Europe during the Middle Ages. By the 17th and 18th centuries, it had become popular to eat peas "green", that is, while they are immature and right after they are picked. This was especially true in France and England, where the eating of green peas was said to be "both a fashion and a madness". New cultivars of peas were developed by the English during this time, which became known as "garden" or "English" peas. The popularity of green peas spread to North America. Thomas Jefferson grew more than 30 cultivars of peas on his estate. With the invention of canning and freezing of foods, green peas became available year-round, and not just in the spring as before.
Fresh peas are often eaten boiled and flavored with butter and/or spearmint as a side dish vegetable. Salt and pepper are also commonly added to peas when served. Fresh peas are also used in pot pies, salads and casseroles. Pod peas (particularly sweet cultivars called mange tout and "sugar peas", or the flatter "snow peas," called hé lán dòu, 荷 兰 豆 in Chinese) are used in stir-fried dishes, particularly those in American Chinese cuisine. Pea pods do not keep well once picked, and if not used quickly, are best preserved by drying, canning or freezing within a few hours of harvest.
In India, fresh peas are used in various dishes such as aloo matar (curried potatoes with peas) or matar paneer ( paneer cheese with peas), though they can be substituted with frozen peas as well. Peas are also eaten raw, as they are sweet when fresh off the bush. Split peas are also used to make dhal, particularly in Guyana, and Trinidad, where there is a significant population of Indians.
Dried peas are often made into a soup or simply eaten on their own. In Japan, China, Taiwan and some Southeast Asian countries, including Thailand and Malaysia, peas are roasted and salted, and eaten as snacks. In the UK, dried yellow split peas are used to make pease pudding (or "pease porridge"), a traditional dish. In North America, a similarly traditional dish is split pea soup.
Pea soup is eaten in many other parts of the world, including northern Europe, parts of middle Europe, Russia, Iran, Iraq and India. In Sweden it is called ärtsoppa, and is eaten as a traditional Swedish food which predates the Viking era. This food was made from a fast-growing pea that would mature in a short growing season. Ärtsoppa was especially popular among the many poor who traditionally only had one pot and everything was cooked together for a dinner using a tripod to hold the pot over the fire.
In Chinese cuisine, the tender new growth [leaves and stem] (豆苗; dòu miáo) are commonly used in stir-fries. Much like picking the leaves for tea, the farmers pick the tips off of the pea plant.
In the United Kingdom, dried, rehydrated and mashed marrowfat peas, known by the public as mushy peas, are popular, originally in the north of England, but now ubiquitously, and especially as an accompaniment to fish and chips or meat pies, particularly in fish and chip shops. Sodium bicarbonate is sometimes added to soften the peas. In 2005, a poll of 2,000 people revealed the pea to be Britain's seventh favourite culinary vegetable.
Processed peas are mature peas which have been dried, soaked and then heat treated (processed) to prevent spoilage—in the same manner as pasteurising. Cooked peas are sometimes sold dried and coated with wasabi, salt, or other spices.
Bioplastics can be made using pea starch.
Peas are starchy, but high in fibre, protein, vitamins, minerals, and lutein. Dry weight is about one-quarter protein and one-quarter sugar. Pea seed peptide fractions have less ability to scavenge free radicals than glutathione, but greater ability to chelate metals and inhibit linoleic acid oxidation.
Peas in science
In the mid-19th century, Austrian monk Gregor Mendel's observations of pea pods led to the principles of Mendelian genetics, the foundation of modern genetics. He ended up growing and examining about 28,000 pea plants in the course of his experiments. Mendel chose peas for his experiments because he could grow them easily, develop pure-bred strains, protect them from cross-pollination, and control their pollination. Mendel cross-bred tall & dwarf pea plants, green & yellow peas, purple & white flowers, wrinkled & smooth peas, and a few other traits. He then observed the resulting offspring. In each of these cases, one trait is dominant and all the offspring, or Filial-1 generation, showed the dominant trait. Then he crossed members of the F1 generation together and observed their offspring, the Filial-2 generation. The F2 plants had the dominant trait in approximately a 3:1 ratio. Mendel reasoned that each parent had a 'vote' in the appearance of the offspring and the non-dominant or recessive trait appeared only when it was inherited from both parents. He did further experiments that showed each trait is separately inherited. Unwittingly, Mendel had solved a major problem with Charles Darwin's theory of evolution: how could new traits be preserved and not blended back into the population? But Darwin never learned about it. Mendel's work was published in an obscure Austrian journal and was not rediscovered until about 1900.
Peas in medicine
Some people are allergic to peas, as well as lentils.
The term pea originates from the Latin word pisum, which is the latinisation of the Greek πίσον (pison), neuter of πίσος (pisos) "pea". It was adopted into English as the noun pease (plural peasen), as in pease pudding. However, by analogy with other plurals ending in –s, speakers began construing pease as a plural and constructing the singular form by dropping the –s, giving the term pea. This process is known as back-formation.
The name marrowfat pea for mature dried peas is recorded by the Oxford English Dictionary as early as 1733. The fact that an export cultivar popular in Japan is called Maro has led some people to assume mistakenly that the English name marrowfat is derived from Japanese.
The annual 'Peasenhall Pea Festival' in the English village of Peasenhall, Suffolk attracts hundreds of visitors every year, with events such as Pea Shooting, the World Pea Podding Championships and National Pea Eating competition. In 2012, the Pea Festival had an OlymPEAn theme, celebrating the London 2012 Olympics.