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Blog: Are you taking the pea?

John Taylerson* explores some little known facts about the humble pea, one of our most popular vegetables, or did I mean, fruit?!

We eat an awful lot of them. We grow about 160,000 tonnes for freezing each year. There are approximately 700 British pea farmers, harvesting over 2 billion portions of peas annually. The UK is the largest producer and consumer of frozen peas in Europe, with Brits eating an average of 9,000 peas per year. Britain is also 90% self-sufficient in pea production, giving British consumers many reasons to celebrate the little green nutritional wondersome peas.

Are peas fruit? I hear you ask. Yes, they are. Peas are the seeds that develop from a flower.  This means, next time a child refuses to eat vegetables, offer them peas as fruit.

Are peas good for you? 

Peas are indeed a good source of starch, fibre, protein, vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin C, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, iron, zinc etc. So yes. They are good for you.

Peas’ role in science and our understanding of genetics is important too. The scientist, Gregor Mendel, worked on about 28,000 plants over the years, cross breeding for genetic traits and defining dominant and recessive genes and how we inherit them. He discovered that many traits, the characteristics that are inherited, followed the next-but-one generation.  That means we now know why we like our grandparents better than our parents. And it wasn’t just because they bribed us with sweets.

Why are peas frozen? 

Well, as you probably know, peas are very delicate. Freezing is the most popular way of preserving them. Peas can also be preserved in tins. This is a process that relies on heat-treating the peas in the tin-can. It gives a very long shelf-life and preserves the nutrition, but means they have a cooked taste too. The freezing process keeps the peas like fresh but means that organising harvesting, transport and freezing is time-critical. So, have a thought next time you are stuck behind a farmer’s trailer. They might well be on a mission to preserve your dinner.

Peas are good for the environment.

Yes, they really are. In fact, they might be part of the solution to feeding ourselves, improving the environment and improving our water quality. Peas are legumes. Legumes are plants that don’t need to use nitrogen fertilizer because they have roots that can ‘fix’ nitrogen. 

Nitrogen fertilizers are produced in factories that use a lot of energy (hence the Co2). This Nitrogen fertilizer is spread on the fields and can end up in the atmosphere or worse, in our watercourse if it rains heavily. Legumes like peas can effectively produce the fertilizer they need to grow on their own. In fact, they produce enough to assist in the growth of other plants and improve soil fertility. This is something farmers exploit. For example, farmers often grow a mixture of peas and barley as a crop to feed their cows. The benefits of this mean that we can avoid the expensive and potential risks to the environment (Nitrogen, Carbon Dioxide etc) that are by-products of artificial fertilizer. This also means that cows get to eat fruit too!

Peas; good for you, good for cows and good for the planet.

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