Peas Peas Peas Peas
27 Jul 2013 06.24 am by K. Daniel
Pease Porridge hot,
Pease Porridge cold,
Pease Porridge in the Pot
Nine Days old
Green peas. I remember the time when I used to separate these unpalatable green gems from either mashed potatoes or a mixture of steamed vegetables. Horrid, starchy, powdery, and bland were a few choice words I've described them as. But yet as I quickly found out, there was no escaping them. They were in soups, stir fries, pastas, salads, snack mixes, and even on top of hotdogs and pies. I was surrounded! And as the old adage "If you can't beat them, join them" begins to look like my inescapable fate, I was surprised by a few not too bad tasting peas.
These were tender, flavourful, and dare I say it, sweet! Now these tiny gems adorn several dishes I cook, and are enjoyed immensely. But how does one pea differ from another in terms of taste? Are all peas in the pod the same?
First off, technically speaking, peas are seeds of a fruit, which is the pea pod. Similar to some fruits, these edible seeds contain sugars, and are therefore sweet. But a lot of the peas I've eaten are starchy and bland you say? Well true, they contain sugars, however when the pods are picked, these are converted to starch as storage for harsh times. The longer peas have been picked, the more sugars are converted to starch, and so it begins to lose its distinctive sweet flavour.
Some varieties such as marrowfat peas are allowed to mature in the field for longer and are mostly starch, and may be cooked and eaten as is or dried to make split peas. By contrast, sugar snap and snow peas are varieties termed edible-podded peas, which as its name suggest is eaten whole, pod and all, usually while still young when the pods are less fibrous.
And so with fresh peas, how do you pick out quality produce?
The New Concise Larousse Gastronomique suggest that the peas should not be too large in size, shiny, tender, but no floury. It goes on to say that earlier harvest peas do not require extensive cooking as it will reduce flavour as a result of starch conversion, while later harvest peas may be cooked longer. From this it could be said that homegrowers have the advantage when it comes to harvesting and eating freshly grown sweet peas.
The young shoots are edible as well, which is an added bonus. But commercially however, peas are most commonly preserved by flash freezing, resulting in the bags of frozen peas that you commonly see in the frozen food section of your supermarket. Flash freezing, unlike putting foods in the freezer, freezes foodstuffs at a faster rate, which minimizes cell damage due to growing ice crystals often associated with food that is slowly frozen. It also prevents the sugars converting into starches in the case of peas, which allows them to be stored for a longer period of time without losing any flavour.
I should add that starchy peas are not necessarily bad, and are used in a wide variety of dishes such as in soups or dried into snacks, where in these cases starches are preferable to sugars. The starch present here can be used as a thickening agent for soups, while sugars would interfere with drying in the case of snacks. So in all, the age of your purchased peas will decide their purpose. No two peas in the pod are the same after all.
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