Peas are thought to have originated somewhere in Asia It is believed that the pea went to China, possibly in the 7th century, then to Europe. But evidence of peas has been discovered in Bronze Age artifacts in Europe and the Middle East. Others point to an African origin, with cultivation in Egypt thousands of years before Christ. Early peas were most often dried and used like split peas in porridges for consumption during winter months. It wasn’t until the 16th century that peas were eaten fresh. In 1533, Catherine de Medici introduced them to France when she married the man who became Henry II, King of France. The French took to them instantly and called them petits pois, a name that stuck. The English imported them from Holland and so cherished them that the pea we know today is often called an English pea. Thomas Jefferson is said to have cultivated some 30 varieties in his own garden at Monticello, including snow peas and a form of sugar snap pea.
Like beans, peas are divided into two categories, those with and those without edible pods. The peas we know as green pea, English pea, and the garden pea fall into the latter category. Most commercial peas are called garden or English peas.
Petit pois are not a variety of pea, but merely green peas that have been picked before full maturity. Thus, they are smaller than normal green peas.
Snap peas look like mini versions of the pods of green peas. The difference is that these pods are edible. Sugar Snap and Sugar Daddy are the two varieties of sugar snap peas, the latter being a cross between a green pea and a snow pea. In addition, the Sugar Daddy is stringless. However, even sugar snaps with strings don’t necessarily need to be stringed before cooking.
Snow peas used to be seen only in Chinese restaurants. Now they’re available everywhere. The pale green, edible pods are flat and wide with little bulges - the immature peas inside - rippling throughout the pod. There are often strings, but again, they need not be removed. Snow peas are also called sugar peas, China peas and in French mangetout, meaning "eat all."
For green peas, the closer you are to the time of picking, the better. Check the pea pods. They should be firm, crisp and bright green with a fresh appearance and a velvety touch. Tough, thick-skinned pods are an indication of overly mature peas. Also avoid pods that have poor color (such as gray specks or yellowing) or show any sign of decay or wilting. Your peas will taste fresher if you shell them yourself and cook immediately. Avoid buy peas that are already shelled because you don’t know when they were shelled. Snow peas and snap peas should also have good color (lighter for snow, darker for sugar) and a firm crispness. The ideal size for snow peas is about 3 to 3-1/2 inches long and about 3/4-inch wide. For snap peas, the most desirable size is 2-1/2 to 3 inches long. Snap and sugar peas have a somewhat longer shelf life than green peas, up to three days, unwashed, in plastic bags under refrigeration as low as 33 degrees. But they should be used within a day or two. Snow peas like less humidity than sugar snap peas, so take this into account in deciding where in the refrigerator to store them, or perforate the plastic bag you put them in. When selecting green peas, run your finger to the top of the pod to make sure the peas are not too large but fill up the whole pod. If the pod is not completely filled, the peas won’t be as sweet as a full pod.
Peas are very low in Saturated Fat and Cholesterol. It is also a good source of Riboflavin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Pantothenic Acid, Calcium, Magnesium, Phosphorus and Potassium, and a very good source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Thiamin, Iron and Manganese.
FYI: Black-eyed peas are actually beans, and not a pea at all!