Archeologists and historians believe the garden pea originated in either Egypt or China, and it has been a part of their diet for 5,000 years. Peas were apparently consumed in dry form throughout much of their early history, and did not become widely popular as a fresh food until changes in cultivation techniques took place in Europe in the 16th century. Peas are now grown throughout the world in nearly every climatic zone, and are widely consumed in both fresh and dried form.
The pea is a quick growing, annual herbaceous vine which requires trellis to support its growth. It flourishes under well-drained, sandy soil supplemented with adequate moisture and cool weather conditions. Short stalked, green pods appear by late winter or early spring.
Each pod measures about 2-3 inches long, filled with single row of 2-10, light-green, smooth edible seeds.
In general, the pods harvested while just short of reaching maturity, at the point when their seeds are green, soft, sweet and edible as raw. Allowing the pods to mature further would make seeds less sweet, bitter and turn light-green to yellow.
Green peas are a very good source of vitamin K, manganese, dietary fiber, vitamin B1, copper, vitamin C, phosphorus, and folate. They are also a good source of vitamin B6, niacin, vitamin B2, molybdenum, zinc, protein, magnesium, iron, potassium, and choline.
Many people think peas are just a poor man’s meat. But peas are really little powerhouses for your health. Let’s look at some of them:
Anti-aging, Strong Immune System and High Energy: This comes from the high levels of anti-oxidants including:
- flavinoids = catechin and epicatechin
- carotenoid = alpha-carotene and beta-carotene
- phenolic acids = ferulic and caffeic acid
- polyphenols = coumestrol
Blood Sugar Regulation: High fiber and protein slows down how fast sugars are digested. The anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory prevent or reverse insulin resistance (type 2 diabetes).
Good for Your Eyes: The lutein and vitamin A in peas also protects your eyes. Lutein, a natural plant pigment, is concentrated in the eye, and its antioxidant activity can protect you from both cataracts and macular degeneration by preventing oxidation. Vitamin A helps keep the surface of your eyes healthy. A 1/2-cup serving of peas contains 1,610 IU of vitamin A.
Healthy Bones: Just one cup of peas contains 44% of your Vitamin K which helps to anchor calcium inside the bones. Its B vitamins also help to prevent osteoporosis.
Heart Disease Prevention: The many antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds support healthy blood vessels. The formation of plaque along our blood vessel walls starts with chronic, excessive oxidative stress and inflammation.
The generous amounts of vitamin B1 and folate, B2, B3, and B6 reduce homocysteine levels which are risk factor for heart disease.
Prevents Constipation: The high fiber content in peas improves bowel health and peristalsis.
Prevention of Wrinkles, Alzheimer’s, Arthritis, Bronchitis, Osteoporosis and Candida: These come from peas strong anti-inflammatory properties. Excess inflammation has also been linked to, heart disease, cancer, and aging in general. These properties include:
- Pisumsaponins I and II and pisomosides A and B are anti-inflammatory phytonutrients found almost exclusively in peas.
- Vitamin C and vitamin E, and a good amount of the antioxidant mineral zinc
- Omega-3 fat in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).
Reduces Bad Cholesterol: The niacin in peas helps reduce, the production of triglycerides and VLDL (very low-density lipoprotein), which results in less bad cholesterol, increased HDL (“good”) cholesterol, and loweres triglycerides.
Stomach Cancer Prevention: Peas contain high amounts of a health-protective phytonutrient called coumestrol. A study in Mexico City determined you only need 2 milligrams per day of this phytonutrient to prevent stomach cancer. A cup of peas has at least 10.
Weight Management: Peas are low fat but high in everything else. One cup of peas has less than 100 calories but lots of protein, fiber and micronutrients.
And last but not least, peas are healthy for the environment:
- Peas work with bacteria in the soil to ‘fix’ nitrogen from the air and deposit it in the soil. This reduces the need for artificial fertilizers since one of their main ingredients is nitrogen.
- After peas have been harvested the remaining plant easily breaks down to create more organic fertilizer for the soil.
- Peas are also able to grow on minimal moisture so they are a perfect crop in many areas not needing irrigation or using up valuable water supplies.
SELECTION AND STORAGE
While shopping for green peas look for fresh pods that are heavy and brimming with seeds. Avoid those with wrinkled surface, or over-matured, yellow color pods.
Green-peas are at their best soon after harvest since much of sugar content in them would rapidly convert into starch. If you have to store at all, place them inside vegetable container in the refrigerator set at high relative humidity where they keep fresh for 2-3 days. Frozen peas, however, can be kept frozen for several months.
Only about 5% of the peas grown are sold fresh; the rest are either frozen or canned.
Overall, we recommend the selection of frozen peas over canned peas. However, we always encourage you to consider fresh peas whenever possible.
TIPS FOR PREPAREING AND COOKING
Before you remove the peas from the pod, rinse them briefly under running water and then gently pull off the “thread” that lines the seam of most peapods.
For those that do not have “threads,” carefully cut through the seam, making sure not to cut into the peas. Gently open the pods to remove the seeds, which do not need to be washed since they have been encased in the pod.
Snow peas and snap peas can be eaten raw, although the cooking process will cause them to become sweeter. Either way, they should be rinsed beforehand.
Of all of the cooking methods we tried when cooking green peas, our favorite is to sauté. We think that it provides the greatest flavor and is also a method that allows for concentrated nutrient retention.
To sauté green peas, heat 3 TBS of broth (vegetable or chicken) or water in a stainless steel skillet. Once bubbles begin to form add green peas, cover, and sauté for 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and toss with your favorite dressing.
HOW TO ENJOY
Add fresh peas to green salads.
Green peas contain naturally-occurring substances called purines. Purines are commonly found in plants, animals, and humans. In some individuals who are susceptible to purine-related problems, excessive intake of these substances can cause health problems. Since purines can be broken down to form uric acid, excess accumulation of purines in the body can lead to excess accumulation of uric acid.
The health condition called “gout” and the formation of kidney stones from uric acid are two examples of uric acid-related problems that can be related to excessive intake of purine-containing foods. For this reason, individuals with kidney problems or gout may want to limit or avoid intake of purine-containing foods such as green peas.