An early cool-weather crop, bright green, plump pea pods in grocery stores and farmers markets herald the arrival of spring. The sweet flavor of fresh peas is a welcome shift from heartier vegetables of winter, and curly tendrils of the pea plant, called pea shoots, make a whimsical garnish or salad addition.
Many varieties of peas are grown or harvested at different times for different uses. All peas, however, can be divided into one of two types: inedible- or edible-podded. Inedible-podded peas, such as English peas, are often referred to as green peas or shelling peas. Edible-podded varieties, such as snow peas and sugar snap peas — a variety developed in the late 1960s — have seeds that are flatter or smaller.
Some varieties of edible-podded peas require removal of the "string," a tough fiber that runs the length of the pod, though many commercially available peas are now "stringless." Green peas and edible-podded peas are harvested before maturity. When just-picked, they are sweet-tasting, but their quality suffers and their sweetness diminishes as the sugars change to starch over time.
Therefore, it's best to eat fresh peas as soon as possible. Edible-podded varieties provide a pleasing "snap" and crisp texture when raw or briefly cooked, but they become soft if overcooked.
Nutritional Qualities of Fresh Peas
Although 1 cup of green peas is considered a vegetable serving in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Patterns and MyPlate, peas are actually legumes. With 8 grams of protein in 1 cup of cooked green peas, they pack a protein punch.
Carbohydrate-rich green peas are not especially low in calories, having just over 130 calories per cup. They are, however, nutrient-dense, supplying vitamins and minerals including vitamins A, C and K, B vitamins, manganese, iron and fiber. Edible-podded peas contain 64 calories per cup, about half the calories of green peas. Although they contain slightly less protein (5 grams per cup), they provide similar nutrients. Green peas contain purines that can be broken down into uric acid, so people susceptible to purine-related conditions, such as gout, are typically advised to limit consumption.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics' Nutrition Care Manual recommends limiting green pea consumption to ½ serving per day. More research is needed, and individual response to purine-containing foods may vary.
Fresh Peas in Foodservice
With a short window of availability in the spring, only about 5 percent of fresh green peas are sold fresh. Fresh edible-podded varieties are more easily obtained year-round. Look for fresh peas that are bright green and smooth with few blemishes. Fresh edible-podded peas can be kept refrigerated in a vented or perforated plastic bag for up to five days. Shelled fresh peas are best when consumed the day of harvesting or purchasing but also can be refrigerated for two to three days. Freeze green peas, sugar snap peas and snow peas for up to 12 months.
Kitty Broihier, MS, RD, is a freelance writer and public relations consultant based in Maine.
- [280 grams] 2¼ cups fresh shelled peas
- [10 grams] 2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
- [8 grams] 1½ teaspoons garlic, chopped (about 2 cloves)
- [40 grams] ¼ cup fresh jalapeño, seeded and chopped
- [30 grams] 2 tablespoons (30 milliliters) fresh lemon juice
- [30 grams] 2 tablespoons (30 milliliters) olive oil, divided
- [50 grams] 3 tablespoons tahini
- [<1 gram] ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- [<1 gram] ¼ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper (optional)
- Bring 6 cups of water to a boil in a 2-quart saucepan. Add 2 to 3 cups of ice water to a medium-sized bowl and place near the stove. Add fresh peas and 1 teaspoon salt to boiling water and boil for 3 minutes. Drain peas from boiling water and immediately place in ice water. Allow peas to sit for 30 to 45 seconds, then drain, removing as much excess water as possible.
- Place peas in the bowl of a food processor and add remaining salt, garlic, jalapeño, lemon juice, 1 tablespoon olive oil, tahini, black pepper and cayenne pepper, if desired. Pulse for 15 seconds and scrape down the sides of bowl.
- Add remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and pulse for 15 to 20 seconds or until mixture is pureed. Adjust seasonings as desired.
- Transfer mixture into a container, cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving. Serve with pita bread and fresh vegetables, or use it as a sandwich spread. Serves 13.
SERVING SIZE: 2 tablespoons (30 grams)
CALORIES 63; TOTAL FAT 4g; SAT. FAT 1g; CHOL. 0mg; SODIUM 172mg; CARB. 5g; FIBER 1g; SUGARS 1g; PROTEIN 2g; POTASSIUM N/A; PHOSPHORUS N/A
Note: Nutrition information for potassium and phosphorus in kosher salt not available.