Peas and Peas: Green or Field?

Dad Red was grumbling about how long black-eyed peas take to cook (frozen – 45 minutes or so), and joking about how quickly green peas cook (just long enough to get them hot). “They’re both peas so what’s the difference?” DadRed knows very well, having grown up eating lots and lots of “peas” of varying kinds. But it is an interesting question, because everyone can tell at a glance that green peas, or “petit pois” if they cost twice as much as green peas, are not the same as black-eyed peas, cow-peas, and other “peas.” What happened?

All peas are legumes, meaning that they fix nitrogen into the soil and their seeds come in pods. Not all legumes have edible seeds, and a few are hazardous to humans, or are considered pest plants. So black-eyed peas and little green peas are truly both peas.  The difference comes in the edibility of their pod, and if you eat them green or dried. As far as we can tell, originally people encouraged, then raised, the kinds of peas that you can eat later (or what I would call field peas and that look like some beans). However, since it is hard to find the remains of fresh-eaten foods in archaeological sites, I wager people at the little green ones, just not as often and not in ways that left as much evidence.

Technically, all peas are from the genus Pisum. Technically, “bean” only refers to broad beans, like limas and those big, flat white beans I can never remember the name of. Except people found things in the New World (Phaseolus) that looked like beans and called them beans. And many dried beans look like cow-peas and crowder peas. And then you have coco and coffee, which are not beans but look like them. Peas have thinner stems than do true beans. And peas tend to be round rather than flat. Which is why soybeans are peas, not beans.

Peas also tend to be starchier than beans when you are cooking, and most peas don’t take as long to cook as do beans. For a while, Weight Watchers (TM) classified peas as “bread exchanges” and beans came under “meat exchanges.” Both need to be soaked for a while before cooking if they are dried.

Beans taste heavier than do peas, mostly, at least to me. I really like beans, either on their own or in things. My folks and sibling prefer peas. The cat doesn’t care for either, unless it is to bat a dried one across the floor and under the ‘fridge.

So even though they look like beans, black-eyed peas are peas. Soybeans are peas. And little green peas are peas. Even when you do like the English and turn them into refried peas AKA Heinz (TM) Mushy Peas.

Clear as mud?

Edited to add: My hand to Bog, I had no idea the punsters would stage an attack, honest. If you venture into the comments, well, weed them and reap.


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