Eating Edible-Pod Peas

Snow peas (Pisum sativum var. saccharatum) and sugar snap peas (Pisum sativum var. macrocarpon) are legumes, more specifically varieties of peas eaten whole in their pods while still unripe. Both of these varieties of peas belong to the the family Fabaceae, along with soybeans, fava beans, common beans (green snap beanspinto beansheirloom beans, Great Northern beans, black turtle beans, kidney beans, and navy beans), black-eyed peas, jicama, adzuki beanslentilslima beanspeanutschickpeas, carob, and licorice. The family also includes broom, gorse, and kudzu.

Peas are among the oldest crops and likely originated in Central Asia. Archaeologists exploring the “Spirit Cave” on what is now the border between Burma and Thailand found peas that were carbon dated to 9750 BC. These were probably a variety of wild peas that were gathered rather than cultivated.  

Travelling nomads and traders brought peas to Europe. In ancient Athens, hot pea soup was sold in the street as a take-away food. Apicius, the ancient Roman cookbook, has nine recipes for peas, each involving extensive preparation, which testifies to the extent of their importance during that period.

By the 7th century, the Chinese were cultivating peas, which they called hu tou, meaning “foreign legume.” They developed the edible-pod snow pea and ate it as a vegetable.

Charlemagne, also known as Charles the Great and Emperor of France, enjoyed importing new vegetables and fruits from other lands. When peas reached France about 800, he had them planted in his gardens.

During the Middle Ages, dried peas became a staple food of the European peasants, because they were inexpensive, plentiful, and stored well during the winter months,  providing filling, wholesome meals the poor could afford. By the 13th century peas were a common food in France.

By the end of the 14th century, the Italians had cultivated tiny peas they named piselli novelli, which they ate fresh rather than dried. When Catherine de Medici married Henry II of France in 1533, she brought many of her favorite foods with her from her Italian homeland, including piselli novelli. The new little peas were such a novelty compared to the dried peas that had become known as peasant fare that they became tremendously fashionable in French cuisine. The French then developed tiny peas called petit pois, a name that has remained since the 1500s.

In the early 17th century, the Dutch and English developed edible-pod peas, also called mangetout (French for “eat all”). Sugar snap peas, which are a cross between English and snow peas, were probably first developed in the late 17th century.

The snap peas we have today were developed in the late 1960s by Dr. Calvin Lamborn, who wanted the sweetness of fresh peas without having to shell them. By crossing shelling peas with snow peas, he developed a sweet pea with an edible pod, the sugar snap pea, which became commonly available in the 1970s.

More than 1,000 varieties of peas exist today. France, China, Denmark, and Russia lead in the production of dried peas, while the U.S., England, Hungary, and India mainly produce fresh peas. China’s fresh peas consist mostly of snow peas.

Snap peas can:

  1. Help you maintain a healthy weight and healthy cholesterol levels. Crunchy snap peas have 42 calories per 100-gram serving, which is just over 1 cup. Snap peas have fewer calories than green shelled peas (81 per 100 grams).  They provide 2 grams of protein, no fat, 3 grams of natural sugar and 2 grams of fiber. The fiber will help keep you feeling full and reduce your temptation to snack between meals. Fiber also helps reduce blood cholesterol levels and constipation. Snap peas, like mature peas, are rich in phytosterols, especially ß-sitosterol. Plant sterols help lower cholesterol levels in your body.
  2. Provide vitamins:
    • Snap peas contain 150% more vitamin C than mature peas: 100 grams of snap peas provide 58.8 milligrams or 98% of the daily value for vitamin C. Vitamin C is a powerful natural water-soluble antioxidant that helps your body develop resistance against infectious agents and scavenge harmful, pro-inflammatory free radicals from your body.
    • Snap peas also have more vitamin K than shelled peas: 100 grams of fresh snap peas contain about 25 µg of vitamin K-1 (phylloquinone). Vitamin K promotes bone mass building by promoting osteotrophic activity in your bones. It also limits neuron damage in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease.
    • Fresh snap peas also contain adequate amounts of antioxidant flavonoids such as carotenes, lutein, and zeaxanthin, as well as vitamin A (1087 IU or 22% DV per 100 g). Vitamin A is required for maintaining healthy mucus membranes, skin, and sight. Eating natural foods rich in flavonoids helps to protect you from lung and oral cavity cancers.
    • Fresh snap peas are an excellent source of folate: 100 grams provides 42 µg or 10% of the daily value for folate. Folate is one of the B-complex vitamins that is required for cellular DNA synthesis. Adequate folate in expectant mothers helps prevent neural tube defects in the newborn babies.
    • In addition to folate, snap peas are also good in many other essential B-complex vitamins such as pantothenic acid, niacin, thiamine, and vitamin B6. Furthermore, they are rich source of many minerals such as calcium, iron, copper, zinc, selenium, and manganese.
  3. Provide minerals: Each 100-gram serving of raw snap peas has 12% DV of iron and manganese, 6% of magnesium and potassium, and 5% of phosphorus.

Nutrients in 100 grams of fresh, raw, Snow peas and Snap peas

Nutrient

Amount

Daily Value

vitamin C

58.8 mg

98%

vitamin K

25 µg

31%

vitamin A

1087 IU

22%

iron

2.08 mg

12%

manganese

0.244 mg

12%

folate

42 µg

10%

fiber

2.6 g

10%

thiamine

0.15 mg

10%

vitamin B6

0.16 mg

8%

pantothenic acid

0.75 mg

7%

magnesium

24 mg

6%

potassium

200 mg

6%

protein

2.8 g

6%

phosphorus

51.5 mg

5%

riboflavin

0.08 mg

5%

calcium

43 mg

4%

copper

0.079 mg

4%

carbohydrates

7.55 g

3%

niacin

0.6 mg

3%

Calories

42

2.1%

vitamin E

0.39 mg

2%

zinc

0.27 mg

2%

selenium

0.7 µg

1%

fat

0.2 g

0.3%

sodium

4 mg

0.17%

cholesterol

0 mg

0%

lutein+zeaxanthin

740 µg

carotene-ß

630 µg

carotene-a

44 µg

cryptoxanthin-ß

0 µg

Look for snap pea pods that are firm and crisp. They shouldn’t bend at all but should snap. The color should be a saturated pale green. Some peas will show a little white scarring on the pod; that’s not a problem.

Refrigerate snap peas in a tightly sealed container. They’ll last four or five days.

Many snap pea varieties have a tough fibrous string that runs the length of the pod, which you should remove before cooking. Fold back the stem and pull on the string, which will unzip quite easily. Some varieties have strings on both sides. If both strings don’t come off at the same time, just repeat the stem operation from the opposite end.

Add snap peas to your salad, pasta, or stir-fry to infuse a refreshing flavor into your dish without adding excess calories and fat.

Raw sugar snap peas are a great addition to salads along with carrots, celery, peppers, and beets.

If you decide to cook snap peas, cook them very briefly to preserve their flavor and crunch. Stem the whole pods just for a few minutes and serve with your favorite dressing. You can also gently stir-fry them alone or with other vegetables.


This blog uses the latest nutritional data available from the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), and the FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration), as well as nutritional data provided by food growers and manufacturers about their products. We believe the information on this website to be accurate. However, we are not responsible for typographical or other errors. Nutrition information for recipes is calculated by Living Cookbook based on the ingredients in each recipe based on statistical averages. Nutrition may vary based on methods of preparation, origin and freshness of ingredients, and other factors.

This blog is not a substitute for the services of a trained health professional. Although we provide nutritional information, the information on this blog is for informational purposes only. No information offered by or through this blog shall be construed as or understood to be medical advice or care. None of the information on this blog should be used to diagnose or treat any health problem or disease. Consult with a health care provider before taking any product or using any information on this blog. Please discuss any concerns with your health care provider.

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