By Lori Zanteson, Environmental Nutrition

Black-eyed peas practically define soul food, tantalizing Southern taste buds for more than a century in dishes like slow-cooked Hoppin’ John and, partnered with collard or mustard greens, a New Year’s Day tradition thought to bring good luck.


The Folklore

Resembling an eye, these cream-colored legumes with the prominent black “pupil,” are not peas at all, but beans that originated in Africa thousands of years ago. Black-eyed peas have an eye for good health too. This anti-inflammatory food delivers more health-promoting nutrients than would seem possible for such a tiny package.

The Facts

Also called cowpea, southern pea or black-eyed bean, the black-eyed pea (Vigna unguiculata) is part of the family of peas and beans (Fabaceae or Leguminosae). Black-eyed peas grow in long green pods, which are shelled fresh or dried on the vine. Legumes nourish the earth – taking nitrogen from the air and converting it into nutrients that improve soil quality – as well as our bodies. A cooked, half-cup serving packs almost half the day’s recommended amount of folate, for healthy immune function and digestion, and, together with a healthy 12 percent DV of iron, protects against anemia. High in dietary fiber (23 percent DV), protein (14 percent DV), and manganese (21 percent DV), black-eyed peas also satisfy the appetite and help maintain a healthy weight.

The Findings

Eating legumes, such as black-eyed peas, along with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, is part of the Mediterranean diet, recommended in the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines as an eating plan that promotes good health and disease prevention (Nutrients, 2016). Evidence shows that eating legumes is strongly associated with a reduced risk of colorectal cancer, and that replacing several meat-based meals a week with legumes can have long term benefits on longevity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and weight management, which may be due to the positive effects of legumes on the gut microbiome (Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2016).

The Finer Points

A warm weather crop, black-eyed peas may be enjoyed fresh before the first frost, or, more commonly, dried or canned. Dried black-eyed peas store best in a sealed container in a cool, dry place. Before use, soak them in water overnight, or cover with water and boil for two minutes, and soak for one hour. Try replacing your usual beans with black-eyed peas as a side dish on their own or mixed with brown rice, or make them into a salad with tomatoes, red onion and vinaigrette.