Green peas come from a family of plants based on herbs, originating in the Himalayan plains of northwest India, probably from the field pea native to central Asia and the Middle East. Because its cultivation dates back many thousands of years, green peas are recognized as one of the first cultivated food crops. Some scientists say ancient pea-eaters may have dried this legume for centuries before someone figured out they could be consumed fresh, right around the time cultivation techniques changed in Europe in the 16th century.
Green peas are now grown throughout the world in nearly every climate and time zone, both fresh and dried. Currently the largest world producer and green pea exporter, Canada grows roughly three million tons every year, with France, China, Russia, and India also large producers. India is the world's largest green pea importer.
Grown in temperate and semi-tropical regions, green peas are considered an early crop in the U.S. that can withstand light frost and therefore be planted early. They grow on long, curling vines requiring poles or fences for support. For the best flavor and texture, the two- to three-inch-long crescent-shaped green pods these vines produce should be harvested before the little round peas inside become too large and lumpy. Snapping one open is a sure test for freshness.
Similar in description and popularity, snow peas and sweet peas have the scientific name Pisum sativum var. macrocarpon, and are probably native to Europe. Unlike the rounded green pea pods, these are flat, so the pea inside is prominent by design.
When shopping or harvesting, choose smaller green peas as they tend to be sweeter. Eat the pods all by themselves as a nutritious snack or as a lovely addition to green salads and gently-heated stir fries. The small round peas inside by themselves make great soup, such as split pea or a smooth green pea puree.
If you can’t have fresh green peas, the frozen variety retains their color, texture, and flavor better than canned, and it’s great to know that the above characteristics aren't affected when they’re frozen for one to three months. But neither frozen nor canned peas have an unlimited shelf life. Research on the matter has shown that the nutrient content of frozen peas begins to diminish during storage, so they should be eaten within six to 12 months. But of course, fresh green peas will always provide far better nutrition. If you won’t be using fresh green peas on the day of purchase, they should be refrigerated as quickly as possible to preserve their sugar content and prevent them from converting to starch. Unwashed, unshelled peas stored in the refrigerator in a bag or unsealed container will keep for several days and also can be blanched – dipped in boiling water – for one or two minutes before the freezing process.
Health Benefits of Green Peas
Green peas are low in calories in comparison with beans, another legume. While there'sroughly a third of a gram of total fat per cup, most of it is HDL – the "good" kind. Another great thing about green peas is that they contain healthy amounts of fiber, which helps clean the system. They’re rich in B-vitamins, including the folates required for DNA synthesis in the cell, playing an important part in the prevention of neural tube defects in newborns. Vitamin C (97 percent of the daily recommendation) provides ascorbic acid, a water-soluble free radical neutralizing antioxidant well known for fighting infection, preventing colds and flu, and building up disease resistance.
Green peas are a rich source of many minerals such as calcium, iron, copper, zinc, and manganese, 45 percent of the DV in vitamin K for blood coagulation, and nearly a quarter of what’s needed daily in thiamin, vitamin A, and folate. The phytosterol ß-sitosterol content has the ability to help lower cholesterol level and build and support strong bones. Other advantages of eating green peas are to prevent osteoporosis and limit neuronal damage in the brain that can cause diseases like Alzheimer's.
When coupled with other phytonutrients in green peas, including phenolics like ferulic and caffeic acid and the flavanols catechin and epicatechin, benefits include lowered risk of type 2 diabetes. In the flavonoid category, green peas provide the carotenoids and the antioxidants catechin and epicatechin. This common little veggie includes phenolic acids such as ferulic and caffeic acid and polyphenols like coumestrol (see the studies, below). Pisumsaponins I and II and pisomosides A and B (hence the scientific name pisum) are anti-inflammatory phytonutrients found almost exclusively in peas, helpful against type 2 diabetes and regulating blood sugar levels.
Green Peas Nutrition Facts
Serving Size: 3.5 ounces (100 grams), raw
|Calories from Fat
*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie
Studies on Green Peas
One of the phytonutrients in peas, a polyphenol called coumestrol, has been recognized for its ability to protect from stomach cancer. A Mexico City-based study indicated that daily consumption of green peas along with other legumes lowers your risk of stomach cancer, especially when two or more milligrams of coumestrol are ingested. (A one-cup serving of peas contains around 10 milligrams.)1
A scientific review noted that the loss of nutrients in fresh products during storage and cooking may be more substantial than commonly realized. Depending on the commodity, freezing and canning processes might preserve nutrients, but heat processing can diminish B and C vitamins. However, these nutrients are relatively stable during subsequent canned storage owing to the lack of oxygen. Frozen products lose fewer nutrients initially because of the short heating time in blanching, but lose more nutrients due to oxidation. Retention of phenolic compounds and changes in moisture content also are highly variable depending on the processing, storage, and cooking methods. (This is particularly true in peas.) Storage, cooking, and processing methods can also change variables and misrepresent changes in nutrient content.
These findings indicate that exclusive recommendations of fresh produce ignore the nutrient benefits of canned and frozen products. Nutritional comparison would be facilitated if future research would express nutrient data on a dry weight basis to account for changes in moisture.2
Green Peas Healthy Recipes:
Balsamic Peas and Peppers
|1 lb. of fresh or frozen green peas
||½ cup red or orange bell pepper, finely chopped
||½ cup slivered almonds
||½ cup chopped green onions
|½ cup crumbled feta cheese
||4 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
||2 Tbsp. olive oil
||Black pepper to taste
Place peas in a large bowl. Toast the almonds in a skillet over medium heat, and then combine with peas. Stir in the onions, bell pepper, feta cheese, and almonds. Mix in the balsamic vinegar, and season with pepper. Cover and refrigerate.
This recipe makes six servings.
Green Peas Fun Facts
Sweet pea blossoms are distilled to create an essence for many body lotions, soaps, lotions, and perfumes.
One of the most ancient vegetables in the garden is the humble green pea, which in its deceptively ordinary looking pod packs a snappy punch in the way of vitamins and minerals, such as antioxidants and flavonoids, particularly vitamin C and the minerals calcium, iron, copper, zinc, and manganese. These and other ingredients help lower cholesterol levels and build strong bones. Ferulic and caffeic acid and flavanols like catechin and epicatechin can lower the risk of type 2 diabetes. Other advantages of eating peas include osteoporosis prevention and limiting neuronal damage in the brain that can cause diseases like Alzheimer's.
It's important to eat your green peas gently cooked to retain the nutrients, and to freeze them for storage whenever possible, rather than canning them (or purchasing this preparation).