What is a pea?
Fresh peas, simply cooked in butter and finished with a dash of shredded mint and lemon, are a perfect accompaniment to grilled fish or meat. As well as adding flavour and nutrition, peas adorn the dish like a cluster of vibrant green marbles.
Archaeological records show that peas were found during the Neolithic Period in the Middle Eastern countries of Syria, Turkey and Jordan. By 2000 BC, cultivated peas had spread along the trade routes and appeared in India and China.
In the long-distant past, peas were primarily eaten dried. Drying peas ensured that people had enough food to see them through the winter months. Fresh peas were a luxury that appeared in Europe in the late 17th century when King Louis XIV was presented with a hamper of this new exotic vegetable.
The Romans introduced the English to peas and they have been a favourite for many years. Peas reached Australian shores on the ships of the First Fleet in 1788 and have been popular ever since.
The fresh green pea is one of the main types of pea that include the snow pea and the sugar snap pea. The seeds from green peas (or shelling peas) are removed from the pod and used in recipes, whereas the snow and sugar snap peas are eaten whole.
Sometimes, pea shoots are also available (usually during winter and early spring) in supermarkets and fresh food markets. Pea shoots are the growing tips of the pea plant removed to encourage more new leaf growth.Dried peas (yellow or green) are also sold. These peas taste the same as fresh peas and can be used in soups and purees.
Why peas are good to eat
- Peas are a good source of vitamins B1 (thiamine), B3, C and K (important for helping your blood to clot).
- They contain dietary fibre and folate.
- Peas also contain minerals such as potassium (which helps to regulate blood pressure), iron (important in the formation of red blood cells) and zinc and manganese (involved in the regulation of brain and nerve function).
- Energy – 100 g of peas supplies 250 kJ.
How are they grown and harvested?
Pea plants prefer cool climates and plenty of moisture. Depending on the variety, pea plants can grow as a bush or as a climbing vine. The climbing varieties can reach heights of up to 2 m and have tendrils that twist around trellises or other supports.
Pea pods are harvested when they appear full and between 5 and 8 cm long. This occurs around 40 to 70 days after planting the seeds, depending on the variety.
Choose young, green peas that have bright green, waxy pods. The pods should appear plump but without bulges, as this indicates that they are too mature. Avoid peas when the pods are wrinkled, split and look dry or have soft or dark patches.
How to store and keep peas
Store fresh peas in a vegetable storage bag in the crisper section of your fridge. They will keep for two to three days when stored this way.
How to use
- Make French-style green peas – cook sliced lettuce, shallots and butter then add peas, some water and sliced ham.
- Serve hot peas with crispy sage leaves – great as a side dish to accompany grilled chicken or fish.
- Try veggie pastries – sauté peas with corn, cabbage and garlic, add spices (ground cinnamon, cayenne pepper, cumin, allspice and chilli flakes), then place the filling on a cut-out pastry circle, fold to make a half-moon, seal, then bake until golden.
- Whip up a simple, minty pea soup – cook spring onions, potato, garlic and stock, add peas, fresh mint, cream and a squeeze of lemon, then blitz in a food processor to your desired thickness.
This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by:
Better Health Channel
Content on this website is provided for information purposes only. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not in any way endorse or support such therapy, service, product or treatment and is not intended to replace advice from your doctor or other registered health professional. The information and materials contained on this website are not intended to constitute a comprehensive guide concerning all aspects of the therapy, product or treatment described on the website. All users are urged to always seek advice from a registered health care professional for diagnosis and answers to their medical questions and to ascertain whether the particular therapy, service, product or treatment described on the website is suitable in their circumstances. The State of Victoria and the Department of Health & Human Services shall not bear any liability for reliance by any user on the materials contained on this website.