Black-eyed peas – or cowpeas as they’re sometimes called – are legumes that are part of the Fabaceae family. They’re extremely popular all around the globe, cherished for their ability to grow in even the driest areas and provide an ample supply of nutritious food. But where do these tasty peas come from? Let’s dive into the history and origin of black-eyed peas.
What are black-eyed peas?
Black-eyed peas, also known as cowpeas, are a type of legume that originally comes from sub-Saharan Africa. They grow on a vine and have a distinctive black spot on their creamy-white skin, which resembles an eye. These peas are widely cultivated in the southern part of the United States of America, where they’ve become an essential part of the culture and cuisine. It’s hard to imagine a New Year’s Day celebration in the Deep South without a big bowl of slow-cooked black-eyed peas with ham hock served alongside collard greens and cornbread.
The history of black-eyed peas
Black-eyed peas have a long history that dates back over 4,500 years, and they have been cultivated in Africa since ancient times. The peas made their way to the United States during the slave trade in the 1600s. The use of the peas in southern cuisine can be traced to Haiti, where they were commonly consumed by slaves on the island. Slave traders would use black-eyed peas as a cheap and easy source of protein for slaves during their voyage across the Atlantic Ocean.
The use of black-eyed peas in southern cuisine dates back to the 1700s when plantation owners started to grow the peas for their enslaved workers, who ate the peas and their foliage in stews, soups, and other dishes. The traditional New Year’s Day black-eyed pea dish has its origins in West Africa, where the legume was considered good luck and a symbol of prosperity.
The nutrition of black-eyed peas
Black-eyed peas are an excellent source of protein, dietary fiber, and several essential vitamins and minerals. They’re low in calories and high in protein, with around 100g of black-eyed peas containing 4g of protein. These legumes are rich in B-complex vitamins such as folate, niacin, thiamin, and pyridoxine. They’re also high in minerals such as potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, and calcium.
Culinary uses of black-eyed peas
Black-eyed pea stew
Black-eyed pea stew is a tasty and nutritious dish that’s common in Southern cuisine. It’s typically made with black-eyed peas, bacon, onions, garlic, and other vegetables such as carrots and celery. The dish is seasoned with herbs and spices such as thyme, bay leaves, and smoked paprika for added flavor.
Fritters and patties
Black-eyed peas can also be used to make fritters or patties. The peas are blended with herbs, garlic, and other spices before being formed into a patty or fritter and fried until crispy. The crispy exterior and soft interior make these fritters a delicious snack or the perfect side dish.
Black-eyed peas make a flavorful addition to a salad. The peas are cooked and then combined with chopped tomatoes, onions, and cucumbers. The salad is usually dressed with a tangy vinaigrette or creamy dressing for added flavor.
Black-eyed pea risotto is a delicious and hearty dish that’s perfect for the winter months. The peas are cooked with Arborio rice and seasoned with thyme, bay leaves, and garlic. The dish is topped with grated Parmesan cheese and served hot.
How to cook black-eyed peas
Black-eyed peas are easy to cook and can be used in a variety of recipes. To prepare black-eyed peas, start by rinsing the peas under cold water to remove any dirt or debris. Soak the peas in water overnight to help soften them and reduce their cooking time.
When you’re ready to cook the peas, drain them and add them to a pot with enough water to cover them by about an inch. Bring the water to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Let the peas cook for about 30 minutes to an hour or until they’re tender. Add salt and other seasonings to taste.
Black-eyed peas around the world
Black-eyed peas are popular all over the world and can be found in many different cuisines. In the Caribbean, black-eyed peas are cooked with rice and coconut milk to make a delicious and creamy dish known as peas and rice. In Brazil, black-eyed peas are used in the dish feijoada, a hearty stew that’s made with black beans, pork, and sausage.
Across West Africa, black-eyed peas are used in a variety of dishes, including fufu and akara. Fufu is a starchy dough that’s made from cassava, yams, or plantains and is typically served with a soup or stew. Akara, on the other hand, is a West African fritter that’s made from ground black-eyed peas and spices.
The cultural significance of black-eyed peas
Black-eyed peas have significant cultural importance in the southern United States, especially in African American communities. The peas have deep roots in Southern cuisine, and they’re often eaten on New Year’s Day as a symbol of good luck and prosperity. Beyond their culinary significance, black-eyed peas have become a symbol of resilience, community, and solidarity, particularly within African American communities.
The future of black-eyed peas
Black-eyed peas are a resilient crop that can grow in even the driest parts of the world. As the world faces increasing water scarcity and unpredictable weather patterns due to climate change, crops like black-eyed peas will likely play an essential role in feeding the growing population. The legumes are also nutrient-dense, making them an important source of protein and essential vitamins and minerals for people all around the world.
Black-eyed peas are a versatile and nutritious crop with deep roots in both African history and Southern cuisine. They’re enjoyed all around the world and can be found in a variety of dishes, from stews and soups to fritters and salads. As the world faces increasing food insecurity and climate change, crops like black-eyed peas will become even more important as a source of sustenance and nutrition.
- Where did black-eyed peas come from originally?
Black-eyed peas originated in sub-Saharan Africa and have been cultivated there for thousands of years.
- When did black-eyed peas come to the United States?
Black-eyed peas were brought to the United States during the slave trade in the 1600s.
- Why do people eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day?
Eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day is a longstanding Southern US tradition that’s believed to bring good luck and prosperity in the new year.
- What are some dishes made with black-eyed peas?
Black-eyed peas can be used in a variety of dishes, including stews, soups, salads, fritters, and risottos.
- Are black-eyed peas good for you?
Yes, black-eyed peas are highly nutritious and are a good source of protein, dietary fiber, and essential vitamins and minerals.
- Smith, A., & McCann, R. (2018). The history of black-eyed peas. Smithsonian Magazine. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/history-black-eyed-peas-180967319/
- United States Department of Agriculture. (2021). Cowpeas (blackeyes). https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2013/08/15/cowpeas-blackeyes
- World Food Programme. (n.d.). Cowpea. https://www.wfp.org/what-we-do/food-technology/crops/cowpea