Flavor Investigator: Peas

During our flavour investigator series we have failed to explore the realm of vegetables. One that manages to sneak its way into multiple dishes but remain forgotten is the humble pea.  Peas come in three varieties: pisum savitum which include the sweet peas (inedible pods) and snow peas (edible pods) pisum macrocarpon. As well, pisum macrocarpon- snap peas that have an edible pod with full sized peas. Although the flavour will vary from variety to variety, the overall consensus is that peas are dual action having both sweet and savoury notes.  They are dominant in green flavour components and can be paired with a range of proteins such as fish and roast. Additionally, they can combine with other dominant green flavours like asparagus and dill. However, peas do not just come in the colour green but occasionally yellow and sometimes even purple.

A Very Brief History of Peas

It is believed that one of the first crops which were cultivated by man were field peas. There has been evidence found by archaeologists of wild pea consumption by humans as far back as 9750BC. The Romans understood the beauty of this ingredient as Apicius (born 25BC) published nice recipes for how to cook dried peas with some recipes combining peas with other vegetables while emphasizing the importance of peas to the Roman diet.  These peas were just as important to European peasants around 800 as they were inexpensive, abundant and nutritionally dense.

Not only have peas been important in the culinary world for thousands of years but also have played an important role in genetics. Pea plants and their reproduction were studied by an Austrian monk known as Gregor Mendel. Through his work he was able to discover how genes are inherited from parents. For example, if you were to cross breed a white flowered pea plant with a purple flowered one the offspring would either be purple or white- nothing in between. If you are interested to learn more about this topic please check out the TED-ed video on this topic.

Varieties of Peas

As mentioned earlier, peas come in three different varieties with an overall similar flavour.  Snow peas are traditionally eaten whole and still unripe.  Many times they are confused with snap peas and commonly used in Asian Stir-Fry. Snow peas have an extremely green flavour which is fresh and crisp, dispersing the need to add other aromatics when stir-fried.  Garden peas unlike the former must be removed from the pod or shelled before eaten. As well, they can be eaten raw or cooked. Finally, the cross between snow and garden peas is snap peas. The whole pod is able to be eaten, providing a very sweet flavour.

Peas “Green” Flavour

There are multiple chemical compounds which contribute to the overall flavour of peas. Carbohydrates (sugars) are one of the major contributors to the flavour of green peas. It has been found that consumer find peas containing higher levels of carbohydrates to be more ideal. It is important that after picking peas are cooled to 0 °C as they lose their sugar content as sugars are converted to starch during ripening.

Additionally, the earthy flavours which are associated with peas come from pyrazines. Pyrazines are nitrogen containing aromatic compounds with alkyl pyrazines having a characteristically savoury flavour profile. They are naturally occurring and are also formed in the cooking of some foods during the Maillard reaction. In contrast, alkylalkoxypyrazines have been said to possess a green flavour and can also be found in green peppers, carrots and lettuce.

Possible Unique Flavour Pairings

  • Pea and Anise-The flavour of anise for this food pairing can be found in the herb tarragon. Tarragon has a slightly bitter edge which blends nicely with the overall sweetness of the pea. Tarragon is also described as having notes similar to pepper allowing it to add another dimension of flavour.
  • Pea and Mint– As it has been mentioned extensively throughout this post, peas pair well with other green flavours such as mint. Mint is a dominant, refreshing flavour so use it sparingly when you combine these two.
  • Pea and Passion fruit– Passion fruit is an exotic, sweet and slightly tart. An energizing and popping flavour like peas. Although passion fruit is a little on the acidic side it can withstand delicate, earthy flavours such as peas.

Sources

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http://www.bestcookingpulses.com/history.php

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mehz7tCxjSE

http://www.thekitchn.com/whats-the-difference-between-snow-peas-sugar-snap-peas-and-english-peas-ingredient-intelligence-205118

http://repository.up.ac.za/bitstream/handle/2263/26649/dissertation.pdf?sequence=1

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