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What is a Purple Pea?

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  • Written By: Allison Boelcke
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 22 August 2016
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The purple pea, also commonly referred to as the Southern pea or the cowpea, is a purple colored seed pod that grows on a flowering legume plant. These plants tend to grow most successfully in moderate climates. Purple peas belong to the same family as black eyed peas and crowder peas, but tend to be considered more strongly flavored when cooked.

Since the purple pea plants tend to tolerate moderate weather conditions the most effectively, farmers will generally recommend that the plant seeds be planted when there is a combination of sunlight and cooler temperatures. Springtime is one of the most commonly recommended optimal times for planting purple peas. The plants tend to grow best when the seeds are planted around the beginning of April through the end of May. Since the seeds grow into a flowering vine that contains the pea pods, wire or wooden stakes are also usually recommended to be placed near the seed location in order to provide the vine with a stable area in which to grow and climb onto.

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The purple pea plant is widely thought to have originated in Africa, particularly in the country of Nigeria. Although this tends to be the most commonly accepted theory, botanists have not been able to conclusively prove its origins. Botanists who have studied the history of purple peas tend to believe that the plant spread throughout the Western world when Africans were forced into slavery in other countries. The purple pea was also historically thought to be one of the main staples of the diets of slaves, who may not have been given meat.

Once harvested, purple peas are commercially sold in a variety of forms. They can be purchased fresh or frozen, particularly if a person lives close to a farm that grows the peas. The purple pea can also be purchased dried or canned, which tends to be the most common form for areas that may not have nearby pea harvests.

The preparation method for purple peas will usually depend on the form in which they are purchased. If the peas are dried, they require overnight soaking in order to hydrate them enough for consumption. Fresh, frozen, or canned peas can generally be steamed, boiled, or sautéed in butter or oil until they are soft enough to eat. Since purple peas are high in protein, they can be eaten as a main entrée or used as a meat substitute. The flavor tends to pair well with onion, garlic, and pork.

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