Dry Pea Varieties

Dry peas, like their lentil cousins, have been around for thousands of years. The earliest evidence dates from Neolithic times in Syria, Turkey, and Jordan. Finds were made in present-day Thailand that date from 11,000 years ago. Discoveries have also been made in Egypt and what is today Georgia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.

Cultivated peas have been classified into two types: (1) garden peas (Pisum sativum ssp. hortense), which are identified by the wrinkled nature of their seed and cotyledon, and (2) field peas (Pisum sativum ssp. arvense), also known as dry peas. This second type is distinguished by its smooth seed surface. The two types are genetically different and produce starches with different granular morphologies and characteristics.

Within the dry pea family, two main varieties are grown throughout the world: the dry green cotyledon and the dry yellow cotyledon. Split peas are simply dry peas (green, yellow, or red) that have been split. Most people are familiar with green split peas, which have a bright green color due to chlorophyll and boast a stronger taste than yellow split peas.

As an annual herbaceous plant the dry pea can be indeterminate (climbing) or determinate (bush or dwarf). One has normal leaves and a vine length of 3 feet to 6 feet. The other is semi-leafless with modified pale-green leaflets reduced to tendrils resulting in shorter vine lengths of 2 feet to 4 feet. They usually have a single stem, but can branch from nodes below the first flower.

Depending on the variety, dry peas start flowering after a specific number of nodes (i.e., the part of the plant’s stem that bears a leaf) are reached. All varieties, except for the Austrian Winter Peas, which are reddish-purple, the self-pollinating blossoms are white, with flowering occurring normally two to four weeks out, depending on the variety and weather. Flowering continues until drought or nitrogen deficiency brings it to an end. Dry pea varieties are distinguished by determinate or indeterminate flowering. Determinate varieties mature in 80 to 90 days, indeterminate varieties in 90 to 100 days.

The pods of the dry pea are about three inches long and contain four to nine seeds, which can have a green, yellow, or cream-colored seed coat. By the time some pea varieties reach maturity, the plant becomes a prostrate vine.

Peas are a cool season crop with planting taking place from winter through early summer depending on location. The seeds may be planted as soon as the soil temperature reaches 50 degrees F (10 degrees C), with the plants growing best at temperatures of 55 degrees F to 65 degrees F (13 degrees C to 18 degrees C), and outside versus in greenhouses.

Dry pea seedlings can withstand considerable frost exposure without damage. If damage does occur and the main shoot is killed, new shoots will originate from nodes below the soil surface. Dry peas also prefer slightly acidic, well-drained soils.

Planting is typically done in the spring. Where frost is not an issue, planting can occur in the fall and early winter. Once planted, it takes dry peas about 60 days to bloom and 100 days to mature the dry seed. Because high temperature during blossoming results in reduced seed set, production of dry pea as a summer annual in the United States is limited to the northern states.

The moisture requirement for the dry pea is similar to that of cereal grains. The ideal includes good rains and/or early irrigation, and no rain during pod fill and ripening. Dry peas can be grown in a wide range of soil types, from light sandy loams to heavy clays. But in each case, there must be good drainage as dry peas don’t tolerate soggy or water-soaked conditions.

Dry peas grow best when planted into a seedbed with a minimum amount of residue on the soil surface. Good soil contact with the seed is also important, so seedbeds that are firm and well worked tend to be favored. Such features of the soil environment can impact the percentage of seedlings that emerge. Seed and soilborne pathogens may have a major effect on emergence.

Another factor is the pea seed germination rate, which increases as the temperature increases. But if temperatures reach 64 degrees F (18 degrees C) or higher, the percentage of germinating seeds decreases.

Temperature is also critical during flowering. Being a cool season crop, dry peas cannot tolerate hot weather or drought stress during this period. This makes seeding early very important. As early in the spring as feasible is best, provided the soil temperature in the upper inch is over 40 degrees F (4 degrees C). Unless erosion is an issue, fall plowing is recommended as a good way to help enable early spring planting.

Among harvested seeds, color variability within a particular variety is usually related to the seed’s maturity and the storage conditions. If irregular pigmentation is evident in a given lot of seeds from a single-stage harvest it may be due to the differing ripeness of the seeds.

Use of Dry Peas

Peas were originally grown mostly for their seeds. Dry peas can be hydrated by soaking and either canned or frozen and then served as a vegetable. Applications for canned or frozen peas include stir-fry dishes, pot pies, salads, and casseroles. Most dry peas are put through a splitting process and the split peas are then used in the popular North American dish, split pea soup.

In many Asian countries, peas are roasted, salted, and consumed as snacks. In parts of the Mediterranean, they are added to meat and potatoes to make a hearty stew. Dry yellow split peas are used in the UK to make the traditional pease pudding or porridge, while dried, rehydrated, and mashed marrowfat peas, known in England as “mushy peas,” are a common accompaniment to fish and chips and meat pie.

Dry pea flour also figures in many uses worldwide. It is valued not only as a vegetable protein source, but also, in part, for its unique functional properties. In keeping with the increasingly popular use of vegetable proteins as functional ingredients in the food industry, dry peas have proven especially sought after due to their wide acceptance as part of the human diet. For example, slurried pea our offers a viscosity that makes it uniquely useful as a thickening agent in certain food products.

Dry peas can also be used as a green manure crop, which is plowed back into the soil to restore nutrients, and provide large amounts of fixed nitrogen to the soil. Dry peas may also be grown as a forage crop for hay, pasture, or silage, while pea starch can be used for industrial purposes such as adhesives.

The Health Benefits of Dry Peas

As with other legumes, dry peas are rich in nutrients. A good source of protein, one quarter cup of dry split peas also provides 13 grams of dietary fiber or 52 percent of the daily recommended 25 grams (based on a 2000-calorie diet). Peas offer more than one third of the recommended daily value for folate, a nutrient that plays a critical role in the prevention of birth defects. Dry peas also have little or no fat and no cholesterol, making them a smart addition to almost any diet.

The many nutrients in dry peas may help lower the risk of heart disease, stroke, and various cancers, while enhancing quality of life by helping manage weight and prevent hemorrhoids and diverticulitis. The soluble fiber in dry peas and low glycemic index may help stabilize blood sugar levels, which is especially important for people with diabetes. In addition, the presence of phytochemicals in dry peas is another reason why they, like other legumes, should be consumed regularly. The body uses phytochemicals to fight disease.

Who We Are

Pulses; dry peas, beans, lentils, and chickpeas grow throughout the United States. USA Pulses is a collaboration between US pulse crop organizations, dedicated to promoting pulse crops. To find out more about our partner organizations click one of the links below.