3 Types of Peas: Uses & Growing Conditions (With Pictures)
Sugar snap, English, and snow peas are the three main varieties of edible peas. They are all members of the legume family and are all climbing plants. The peas themselves are actually the seed of the pea pod, which itself is technically a type of fruit because they contain seeds and grow from a flower. They share a lot of similarities, including in their flavor, which means that they can often be interchanged in recipes, but there are also some slight differences.
Below, we look at these three common types of peas, including their similarities and their differences for growing and eating.
The 3 Common Types of Peas
1. English Peas
|Garden peas, shelling peas
English peas, which are also called garden peas and are the type that is frozen, are shelling peas. This means that the pea pod itself cannot be eaten, so some effort is required to shell the seeds. This also means that the peas need to be allowed to plump fully before they are eaten, which gives them a good flavor and makes it easier to excavate them from the pod. Some of the fast-growing varieties can be ready to eat in less than 2 months.
2. Snow Peas
|Chinese pea pods
Snow peas are used in a lot of Asian cooking, especially stir fry dishes, and are not usually shelled before being eaten. They are also eaten when the pea is still flat and has not plumped up. Despite now having to allow the peas to plump up, the snow pea is the slowest maturing, and it can take several months before a crop is ready to harvest.
3. Sugar Snap Peas
Sugar snap peas are actually a cross between English peas and snow peas. They grow well in cooler climates, which also means that they can withstand frost and cold snaps. They get their name because they taste sweet, and the case has a distinctive snap noise when broken in half. Although most varieties are climbers, there are some bushy varieties, too, which means that you can choose a variety according to the growing space you have available. The sugar snap pea pods are edible, but the seeds themselves are typically allowed to fatten up a little bit before the peas are eaten.
The best variety of peas to grow really depends on your preferences. English peas grow well in cold conditions, while snow peas, as the name suggests, can even grow in freezing cold and snowy conditions. If you live in a slightly warmer climate, you should still wait for the colder months before growing any of these varieties, but the English pea tends to fare better.
Time to Grow
In terms of growing time, English peas tend to take the shortest time from planting to harvest. The bushy varieties can take as little as 2 months and will yield plump peas that are ready to eat. Snow peas can take several months and are always harvested and eaten when they are still flat and before they plump up. As a hybrid of the two, sugar snap peas can take anywhere from 2–5 months to grow.
In terms of yield, it is difficult to compare the different types of peas, primarily because English peas are shelled before being eaten but they do produce plump peas and are in plentiful supply. Snow peas, in contrast, are not usually shelled but they remain smaller. In terms of edible weight, you can get roughly the same amount from each variety, so it really depends on whether you want to eat the peapod casing or not.
Snow peas are a crisp pea. They do have some sweetness but are not usually as sweet as the garden or English pea. Because you only eat the pea itself with the garden pea, it lacks the crispness of the snow pea. The sugar snap pea grows plump like the garden pea, so takes on its sweetness, and you can also eat the pea pod so you can still enjoy the crisp properties of the snow pea. This combination of sweetness and crispness of the sugar snap pea means that it is usually considered the most flavorful variety, but it will depend on your personal preferences.
Snow and sugar snap peas have a very similar nutritional profile, assuming that you eat the shells as well as the peas. Because you remove garden peas from the shell before eating, they have fewer calories but less fiber. Fiber is important because it can reduce blood cholesterol levels and may help prevent and fight obesity. As such, snow and sugar snap peas are generally considered to be the healthier varieties, although English peas are still good for you.
All three varieties of pea are considered nutritionally healthy and can be grown in anywhere from 2 months to around 5 months. They also have a similar taste, although garden peas are considered sweeter while snow peas are crisper, and sugar snap peas combine the two flavors. The major differences in the types of peas are that, while snow peas are eaten when they are still small and flat, they are most often consumed while still in their pod and the pod of English peas is not edible but the seeds are allowed to plumpen before they are consumed.
Featured Image Credit: Mats Hagwall, Unsplash