Green peas (also known as English peas, garden peas, and sweet peas) are a food most of us are familiar with. We either love them or hate them. BUT, I’d speculate that if you have a hate-affair with peas, it’s because you were always fed the canned variety when you grew up and you weren’t allowed to leave the table until you ate your peas. Right?? Well, if that’s the case, let me urge you to give them another try! But this time, try the frozen variety, and don’t cook them to death. They’re sweet, nourishing, and have a totally different flavor and texture than the canned peas! AND you can eat frozen peas without cooking them at all! To me, that’s the most tasty way to eat them.
Below is a comprehensive article all about green peas, from what they are to their health benefits, to what goes with them, to suggested recipe links. Hopefully you’ll find what information you need below.
Green Peas 101 – The Basics
About Green Peas
Peas are members of the legume family, but they are commonly sold and cooked as vegetables. Other members of this same family include lentils, chickpeas, and beans that are commonly sold as dried beans. There are three types of peas that are commonly eaten, green peas (also called garden peas, English peas, or sweet peas) (Pisum sativum), snow peas ((Pisum sativum var. macrocarpon) and snap peas (Pisum sativum var. macrocarpon ser. cv.). This article focuses only on green peas.
Green peas have rounded pods that are usually slightly curved with a smooth texture and vibrant green color. Inside of them are green rounded pea seeds that are starchy with a sweet flavor. The pods of green peas are not edible.
The modern-day green pea is thought to have originated from a field pea in central Asia and the Middle East. The history of green peas dates back thousands of years and is thought to be among the first crops cultivated by mankind. Peas are now grown around the world and are used in both the fresh and dry forms. Canada is now the world’s largest producer of peas, growing about 3 million tons per year. A lot of peas are also grown in France, China, Russia and India.
Nutrition and Health Benefits of Green Peas
Being a legume that is commonly used as a vegetable, green peas have slightly more calories than a typical vegetable. Yet, they are still fairly low, with 62 calories in a one-half cup serving. Most of the calories (70%) come from carbohydrates, with the rest provided by protein and a small amount of fat. A one-half cup serving of green peas provides a substantial amount of Vitamins A, K, C, and E, thiamine, folate, manganese, iron, phosphorus, zinc, and fiber. Since peas are actually legumes, they have more protein than most vegetables. For example, they have four times the protein of carrots.
Despite their carbohydrate content, green peas have a relatively low glycemic index. Their protein and fiber content have been shown to help control blood sugar level, reducing the risk for diabetes and heart disease.
The fiber in green peas has shown to help lower the risk of bowel conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, and even colon cancer. The fiber in peas, combined with their abundant minerals such as magnesium, potassium, and calcium help to protect us from heart disease by lowering total and LDL cholesterol.
The humble green pea is loaded with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients. These special compounds, combined with the other nutrients found in green peas, make them especially helpful in warding off heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
Antinutrients. Despite their healthful qualities, green peas also contain some antinutrients that can prevent the absorption of certain minerals within the peas. They contain phytic acid which can bind to the iron, calcium, zinc and magnesium within the peas, blocking our ability to absorb them. They also contain lectins which can cause gas and bloating in some people, and may interfere with nutrient absorption. The amount of lectins and phytic acid in green peas is lower than that in other legumes and usually does not cause a problem in most people. However, cooking, sprouting, or fermenting foods deactivates most of the lectins. So, it is best not to eat green peas raw, especially if this is a concern to you. Phytic acid should not be a problem in small amounts and has actually been shown to have beneficial effects such as killing cancer cells and warding off kidney stones by preventing oxalates from forming them. So, the best way to ward off any problems associated with phytic acid and lectins in green peas is to ferment, sprout or cook them first and keep serving sizes reasonable. Since frozen peas have been blanched in boiling water, eating frozen and thawed green peas should present no health problem. A one-third to one-half cup serving size of cooked, sprouted, or fermented green peas should present little to no issue for most people.
Selecting Fresh Green Peas
Only about 5% of green peas grown are sold as fresh. The remaining are either frozen or canned. When selecting fresh green peas, they will very likely still be within their pods. Choose pods that are firm and smooth with a bright medium green color. Avoid pods with colors that are very light, very dark, yellowish, whitish, or speckled. Make sure they have no mildew on them and are not water-soaked. Check to be sure they have fully developed peas inside by giving them a gentle shake. If they have a slight rattle, they are full of peas. Fresh green peas are very perishable and should be used within three days of purchasing them. Fresh green peas are usually available from spring up to early winter months.
Fresh vs Frozen vs Canned Green Peas
Fresh. Since fresh green peas will not keep for long, be sure you have the time to prepare them when making your purchase. The pods are not edible, but the peas may be eaten raw, although cooking them is best. So they must be shelled first no matter how you opt to eat them. Unless you grow them yourself, know a local gardener, or have a farmer’s market nearby, fresh green peas are rarely available in local grocery stores, so they are not readily available.
Frozen. Frozen green peas have a bright green color, a delicious mild flavor, and a slight texture when eaten. They have already been shelled and blanched, so they can simply be thawed and added to a salad, and eaten just as they are. They can be added while frozen to stir-fries, soups, or other cooked dishes right out of the bag. Serving them as a side dish involves only brief cooking time, so frozen peas are often the preferred choice of many cooks. Frozen green peas are available in just about any grocery store, so this variety is readily available year-round. Frozen green peas are easy to use since they can be thawed and eaten just as they are. Or they can be easily cooked in very little time, so they are a very convenient food to include on your menu.
Canned. When compared with the frozen option, the color of canned green peas is much duller, the flavor is stronger, and the texture is soft. Most varieties of canned green peas have salt added to them which may or may not be an issue of concern. Most people prefer the flavor and texture of frozen green peas over canned. Nevertheless, canned green peas are a good staple food to have available in the pantry in case of emergencies or power outages.
How to Store Fresh Green Peas
Green peas should be used as quickly as possible after harvesting. So, if you are able to get freshly harvested green peas, they should be shelled and used or frozen as soon as possible. This is because their flavor declines quickly after being harvested, with their natural sugars turning to starch.
Store fresh green peas in perforated plastic bags in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator with the slider vent closed to help keep them moist. Use them or freeze them within 3 days. They may become soft and turn brown if kept too long.
How to Shell Fresh Green Peas
First, rinse the pods under running water to remove any loose debris. Snap off the top and bottom ends of the pod and gently pull the “string” that runs along the seam of the pod. If there is no “string”, gently cut the pod open along the seam, being careful not to cut into the peas inside. Gently open the pod to remove the seeds (peas). The peas do not need to be washed since they were encased in their pods. The peas can then be cooked or blanched for freezing.
How to Freeze Green Peas
To freeze fresh green peas, wash and remove the peas from the pods. Discard the pods. Blanch the shelled peas in boiling water for 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 minutes. Immediately remove the peas from the boiling water and place them in a bowl of ice water. Allow them to chill for the same amount of time they were in the boiling water (1-1/2 to 2-1/2 minutes). Drain them well and place them on a tray. Carefully pat them dry with a paper towel, then place the tray in the freezer until the peas are completely frozen. Transfer the frozen peas to freezer bags or containers. Label them with the current date and use them within 1 year for best quality.
Quick Ideas and Tips for Using Green Peas
Try to keep a bag of frozen green peas in the freezer for easy additions to meals. Here are some quick ideas on ways to use them…
* Add fresh cooked or frozen/thawed green peas to a green salad for a sweet flavor, protein and nutrition boost.
* Make a green pea hummus/dip and serve with fresh vegetables, chips, bread, or toast.
* Make an easy green pea pesto by blending: 1 bag of frozen/thawed green peas, a handful of mint leaves, grated Parmesan cheese (to taste), 1 or 2 garlic cloves, and black pepper to taste. Add a little olive oil through the tube as it’s blending and thin the mixture with some fresh lemon juice. Spread the pesto on toasted bread and top with ricotta cheese. Store in a covered container in the refrigerator and use within a few days.
* Make a quick pea, tomato and parsley salad by tossing thawed (and warmed, if desired) green peas with chopped fresh tomatoes and parsley. Season with your favorite oil/vinegar mixture or other salad dressing.
* Toss lightly cooked (or frozen/thawed) green peas with cooked couscous, quinoa, rice or other grain or choice. Sprinkle with lemon juice, lemon zest, and chopped tarragon. Season with salt and pepper if desired. Give it a quick toss and it’s ready to serve.
* Add frozen/thawed (and warmed, if desired) green peas to your favorite mashed potatoes for a sweet, colorful addition and nutrition boost.
* Make an easy pea soup by placing a bag of frozen peas into a pot. Cover (by about ½-inch) with vegetable stock. Boil the peas in the broth until they are tender, adding in a generous amount of your favorite herbs such as dill or chives. Blend or puree the mixture, then top with cashew cream, sour cream, or a splash of heavy cream.
* Add some thawed green peas to your favorite pasta dish for added sweetness and protein.
* Add some thawed green peas to your favorite macaroni and cheese dish for color, flavor and added protein.
* Add some green peas, along with some sautéed garlic and onion to polenta for an easy side dish. Sprinkle with a little cheese for added flavor.
Herbs/Spices That Go Well with Green Peas
Allspice, basil, bay leaf, cardamom, chervil, cilantro, coriander, curry powder, dill, garam masala, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, marjoram, mint, nutmeg, oregano, parsley, pepper, rosemary, saffron, sage, salt, savory, sorrel, tarragon, thyme, turmeric
Foods That Go Well with Green Peas
Proteins, Legumes, Nuts, Seeds: Almonds, beans (fava), beef, cashews, chicken, eggs, fish, pork, sesame seeds, shrimp, tofu, turkey
Vegetables: Artichokes, asparagus, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, chiles, chives, cucumbers, fennel, greens (bitter), leeks, lettuce, mushrooms, onions, potatoes, scallions, snow peas, spinach, squash (winter), sugar snap peas, tomatoes, turnips
Fruits: Avocados, grapefruit, lemon, lime
Grains and Grain Products: Barley, breadcrumbs, bulgur, couscous, noodles, pasta, quinoa, rice, spelt
Dairy and Non-Dairy: Butter, buttermilk, cheese (esp. feta, goat, mozzarella, Parmesan, ricotta), coconut milk, cream, crème fraiche, ghee, sour cream, yogurt
Other Foods: Mayonnaise, oil (esp. olive, peanut, sesame, sunflower), pesto, soy sauce, stock, vinegar
Green peas have been used in the following cuisines and dishes…
Casseroles, curries, guacamole, hummus, paellas (vegetarian), pasta dishes, pesto, risottos, salads (pasta, vegetable), sauces, soups (pea, spinach, vegetable), stews, stir-fries
Suggested Flavor Combos Using Green Peas
Add green peas to any of the following combinations…
Almonds + grapefruit + thyme
Artichokes + oregano + snap peas
Arugula + potatoes
Buttermilk + mint + olive oil + scallions
Carrots + mushrooms
Coconut + coriander
Dill + mint
Garlic + mint + spinach
Ginger + sesame oil
Lime + mint + paprika
Mint + ricotta cheese
Mushrooms + pasta
Pasta + ricotta cheese
English Peas with Mint https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/english-peas-with-mint-232121
10 Things to do with Frozen Peas https://www.bonappetit.com/recipes/article/10-things-to-do-with-frozen-peas
Minted Green Peas and Carrots http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=recipe&dbid=189
Sautéed Mushrooms with Green Peas http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=recipe&dbid=303
Cream of Cashew Pea Soup https://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/cream-of-cashew-pea-soup
29 Recipes that Start with a Bag of Frozen Peas https://www.tasteofhome.com/collection/frozen-peas-recipes/
47 Recipes that Start with a Bag of Frozen Peas https://www.myrecipes.com/convenience/freezer-recipes/frozen-peas-recipes-ideas
Simple Peas and Onions https://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/simple_peas_and_onions/
Green Pea and Chickpea Falafel https://www.thekitchn.com/recipe-green-pea-and-chickpea-falafel-230089
Page, Karen. (2014) The Vegetarian Flavor Bible. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.
Julia W. Klee (Judi) began her journey enjoying “all things food” in elementary school when she started preparing meals for her family. That love of food blossomed into a quest to learn more and more about health and wellness as related to nutrition. She went on to earn a BS Degree in Food and Nutrition, then an MS Degree in Nutrition. She has taught nutrition and related courses at the college level to pre-nursing and exercise science students. Her hunger to learn didn’t stop upon graduation from college. She continues to research on a regular basis about nutrition as it relates to health. Her hope is to help as many people as possible to enjoy foods that promote health and wellness.