The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







Peas is also the name of a commune of the Marne département in France.

A pea is the small, edible round green bean which grows in a pod on the leguminous vine Pisum sativum. This legume is cooked as a vegetable in many cultures. Several other seeds of the family Fabaceae, most of them round, are also called peas, but this article deals with the species Pisum sativum and its cultivars.

A pea plant is an annual plant which means that it has a lifecycle of a year.


Cultivation history

Peas have been found in Near Eastern archaeological sites which date back nearly 10,000 years. Domesticated cultivars appeared relatively shortly after wheat and barley, which appear to have been cultivated as long ago as 7800BC. By 2000BC, pea cultivation had spread throughout Europe and east into India.

Types of pea

Peas grown for the immature peas are called garden peas, shell peas or green peas. They are sold fresh (usually in the pod), or tinned or frozen.

The mature pea, which dries naturally in the field, is known as the marrowfat pea. It is grown mainly in Britain, but many are exported to the Far East. One of the oldest export varieties, popular in Japan for the last hundred years, is called Maro.

Several varieties of peas are eaten pod and all and are known as mangetout, edible pod peas, snow peas, sugar peas or snap peas. They are especially characteristic of oriental cuisine. The snow peas are eaten before the pod inflates, whereas the snap peas are eaten when the seeds have partly matured and the pod is round.

Field peas, also referred to as protein peas, are a cultivar of P. sativum (P. sativum 'Arvense') that are grown as forage or for hay production.

Ways of eating peas

Dried peas are often made into a soup or simply eaten on their own. In Japan and other Far Eastern countries, such as Thailand, Taiwan and Malaysia, the peas are roasted and salted, and eaten as snacks. In the UK, marrowfat peas are used to make pease pudding (or "pease porridge"), a traditional dish. In North America a similarly traditional dish is split pea soup.

Fresh peas are often eaten boiled and flavored with butter and/or spearmint as a side dish vegetable. Fresh peas are also used in pot pies, salads and casseroles. Pod peas (particularly sweet varieties called mangetout and sugar peas) are used in stir fried dishes.

In the UK, dried, rehydrated and mashed marrowfat peas, known by the public as mushy peas, are popular, originally in the north of England but now ubiquitously, and especially as an accompaniment to fish and chips or meat pies, particular in chippies or fish and chip shops. Sodium bicarbonate is sometimes added to soften the peas.

Processed peas are mature peas which have been dried, soaked and then heat treated (processed) to prevent spoilage - in the same manner as pasteurising.

Cooked peas are sometimes sold dried and coated with wasabi as an eye-watering snack.

Peas in science

Pioneering geneticist Gregor Mendel studied seven traits of pea pods in teasing out three early laws of genetics.


According to etymologists, the term was taken from Latin and adopted into English as the singular term "pease", as in pease pudding below. However, by analogy with other plurals ending in "-s", speakers began construing "pease" as a plural and constructing the singular form by dropping the "s", giving us the term "pea". This process is known in linguistics as back-formation.

Pease pudding hot,
Pease pudding cold,
Pease pudding in the pot,
Nine days old
Some like it hot,
Some like it cold,
Some like it in the pot
Nine days old

The name marrowfat pea for mature dried peas is recorded by the OED as early as 1733. The fact that an export variety popular in Japan is called Maro has led some people to assume mistakenly that the English name marrowfat is derived from Japanese.

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