Green garden peas are legumes, plants that produce pods enclosing fleshy seeds. Unlike dried legumes such as chick peas, split peas and most beans that require long cooking times, green peas are packaged and prepared like all fresh green vegetables. Like all seeds, they are storehouses of nourishment and provide low-fat protein, too.

Peas in their dried form have been used as a food since ancient times, archaeologists found them in Egyptian tombs, but it was not until the 16th century that tender varieties were developed to be eaten fresh. In the 17th century, Louis XIV's court discovered the delights of eating young fresh peas. In the 19th century, Gregor Mendel, an Austrian monk and botanist, used peas for his famous plant breeding and heredity experiments which are considered the foundation of modern genetics.

Today, only about 5% of peas are fresh while the rest of the crop is canned or frozen. Frozen green peas retain their colour, flavour, and nutrients better than canned peas and are much lower in sodium. If just thawed and not cooked, frozen peas can be substituted for fresh peas in salads and other uncooked dishes. Canned peas lack the colour and the delicate texture and flavour. Most canned peas have added salt, sugar, and colors to restore that lost in processing.

In store , fresh green peas should be refrigerated; if kept at room temperature, half their sugar content will turn to starch within a few hours. Low temperatures also help preserve the texture and nutrient content. Look for firm, glossy pods with a slightly velvety feel, filled almost to bursting; the peas should not rattle loosely in the pod. Choose medium-sized pods rather than overlarge ones. The stem, leaves, and tip should be soft and green. Reject pods that are puffy, dull, yellowed, or heavily speckled. If possible, crack open a pod and taste a few peas for sweetness.


It's best to serve all types of fresh peas on the day of purchase. If you must store them, place the unwashed pods in a perforated plastic bag and refrigerate them for no more than a day or two. Do not shell the peas until you cook or eat them.

Rinse the green pea pods just before shelling them. Pinch off the stem with your fingernail and pull the string down the length of the pod. The pod will pop open, then push out the peas with your thumb. If the pods are clean on the outside, you need not wash the peas. When cooking the peas, you can add three or four pods for extra flavour.

The quickest way to thaw frozen peas (for use in salads or in dishes that require further cooking, such as casseroles) is to place them in a strainer or colander and pour boiling water over them. When you prepare frozen peas, according to package directions, on the hob or in the microwave, check them after just a minute or two as they are unlikely to require the full cooking time suggested on the package. If overcooked, they will turn mushy and grey, look unappetising, and lose much of their vitamin C content.