Green peas aren’t usually the star of the meal, but we think they deserve more attention! And we aren’t the only ones – many public health organizations, including the American Heart Association, the American Diabetes Association, and the American Cancer Society, recommend legumes (peas, beans, and lentils) for optimizing health and preventing disease. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend approximately 3 cups per week for a 2,000 calorie diet.
Legumes are plants that bear fruit in the form of pods – so all peas and beans belong to this family. Legumes are higher in protein than most plants, and can even replace other proteins (think meats, fish, eggs) in some meals. This makes them a great option for vegetarians, vegans, or people just looking to add more plants into their diets! Legumes are also rock stars when it comes to supplying fiber, phosphorous, and B complex vitamins.
Generally, there three types of peas: garden (or green) peas, snow peas, and snap peas. Here’s how to know the difference and choose the best!
- Garden (or green) peas have rounded pods with a smooth texture and vibrant green color. The pods contain green rounded pea seeds with a sweet and starchy taste. The pods aren’t usually eaten, as they are tough. These are the peas that are often used in commercial canning and freezing. When purchasing fresh garden peas, look for firm, smooth pods of a lively medium green, with sufficient number and size of peas filling the pod (you can squeeze or shake the pods to see whether there are enough peas in them). Try to avoid very light or dark colored pods, or those with yellow or white spots or speckles.
- Snow peas are flatter than garden peas, and you can usually see the shadows of the flat peas through the pod. They are often included in stir-fries or fresh on salads, and are notable for their edible pods. They are sweeter than the garden pea. When purchasing, look for smaller pods, since they will be more tender and sweet.
- Snap peas are a hybrid of the garden and snow pea, and have plump pods with a crisp, snappy texture. The pods are edible and have a sweeter taste than the garden pea. Snap peas should literally “snap” – when purchasing, snap one open to make sure it is crisp. Fresh snap peas should be bright green, firm and plump.
All fresh peas should be stored and sold in the refrigerated section, since heat causes the sugar content to convert to starch. Make sure you keep yours in the fridge!
Only a small percentage of peas are sold fresh – fresh and frozen have the best nutrient content and flavor. Canned varieties may be convenient, but they do not retain original color, texture, or flavor as well. They may also contain a lot of salt, so make sure you look for “low sodium” or “reduced sodium” versions. To reduce sodium even more, you can rinse them before consuming.
How do you want to eat your peas? Try adding them fresh to green, pasta, or meat salads; sautéing with stir fries or as a side dish; snacking on them as you would fresh carrots. Want some more ways to enjoy peas? Try our delicious Creamed Potatoes and Peas recipe!
- 1 lb. small red potatoes, washed and quartered
- 2 cups fresh shelled green peas
- ¼ cup butter, cubed
- 1 green onion or some chopped fresh chives
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- ½ tsp. salt
- ¼ tsp. ground black pepper, or to taste
- 2 cups low-fat milk
Place potatoes in a large saucepan and cover with water. Bring the potatoes to a boil; reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the peas and cook for another 4 or 5 minutes. Meanwhile, in another saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Stir in the onion and sauté until the onion is tender. Whisk in the flour, salt and pepper. Cook for about a minute, then gradually whisk in the milk. Bring just to a boil, then reduce heat and cook for 2 minutes longer or until thickened. Drain the potatoes and peas and stir them into the cream sauce.
Pea PLUS: Peas are a very environmentally friendly food. Agricultural research shows pea crops can provide the soil with important benefits such as nitrogen without the need for added fertilizer, and they help prevent harmful erosion. So one way to “go green” is to go with green peas!