A pea is most commonly the small spherical seed or the seed-pod of the legume Pisum sativum.
Each pod contains several peas.
Although it is botanically a fruit, it is treated as a vegetable in cooking.
The name is also used to describe other edible seeds from the Fabaceae such as the pigeon pea (Cajanus cajan), the cowpea (Vigna unguiculata), and the seeds from several species of Lathyrus.
P. sativum is an annual plant, with a life cycle of one year.
It is a cool season crop grown in many parts of the world; planting can take place from winter through to early summer depending on location.
The average pea weighs between 0.1 and 0.36 grams.
The species is used as a vegetable, fresh, frozen or canned, and is also grown to produce dry peas like the split pea. These varieties are typically called field peas.
The wild pea is restricted to the Mediterranean basin and the Near East.
The earliest archaeological finds of peas come from Neolithic Syria, Turkey and Jordan.
In Egypt, early finds date from ca. 4800ï¿½4400 BC in the Nile delta area, and from ca. 3800ï¿½3600 BC in Upper Egypt.
The pea was also present in Georgia in the 5th millennium BC.
Farther east, the finds are younger. Peas were present in Afghanistan ca. 2000 BC, in Harappa, Pakistan, and in northwest India in 2250ï¿½1750 BC.
In the second half of the 2nd millennium BC this pulse crop appears in the Gangetic basin and southern India.
In early times, peas were grown mostly for their dry seeds.
In modern times, however, peas are usually boiled or steamed, which breaks down the cell walls and makes the taste sweeter and the nutrients more bio-available.
Along with broad beans and lentils, these formed an important part of the diet of most people in the Middle East, North Africa and Europe during the Middle Ages.
By the 17th and 18th centuries it had become popular to eat peas “green”, that is, while they are immature and right after they are picked.
This was especially true in France and England, where the eating of green peas was said to be “both a fashion and a madness”.
New cultivars of peas were developed by the English during this time which became known as garden peas and English peas.
The popularity of green peas spread to North America. Thomas Jefferson grew more than 30 cultivars of peas on his estate.
With the invention of canning and freezing of foods, green peas became available year-round, and not just in the spring as before.