April brings a lot of seasonal produce to market shelves, and one favorite is the early-producing spring pea. Also known as garden peas or English peas, spring peas are great to snack on freshly shelled or tossed into light salads, pastas, soups and stir-fry dishes. Equally delicious, though not as commonly referred to as “spring peas” in recipes, are snap peas and snow peas, whose small peas and edible pods are crisp and delicious.
Spring peas are best eaten the day they are picked or as soon after as possible, so they retain their cool crunch and sweet flavor. If you can find them fresh at a local farmers market or grocery store, you’ll enjoy their off-the-vine “greenness,” which comes from an aroma compound also found in green peppers. Because the growing season for spring peas is so short, many of these crops are grown for the frozen market. This way, the sweet flavor of these little green pearls can be enjoyed year-round.
- According to the Produce for Better Health Foundation, spring peas are fat free, cholesterol free, sodium free, a fantastic source of vitamin C and vitamin A, and a good source of folate and dietary fiber.
- The pea (Pisum sativum) is also known as the garden pea, field pea, spring pea, English pea, common pea and green pea.
- According to the USDA, spring peas, snap peas and snow peas are harvested before the seeds are mature for the fresh or fresh-pack markets. Contrarily, field peas are harvested when seeds are mature and dry and sold as split peas (for human consumption) or mixed with grains (for livestock feed).
- The tender pea shoots that grow from the tops of young pea plants are also edible; their soft leaves and tendrils mimic the delicate flavor of young, fresh peas. They are popular in Asian cuisine and are great on salads or spring pastas.
- When selecting spring peas, choose ones that are full, firm and bright green with medium-sized pods and no signs of wilting, wrinkling or yellowing.
- Peas are best eaten right away, but if you plan to store them, do so in a perforated plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Wait to shell the peas until you are ready to use them.
- English and garden peas must be shelled from the pod before eating.