Seasonal Produce Spotlight: The Health Benefits of Pea Shoots

Nutrition Information, How Much They Cost and How to Eat Them.

I remember the first time that I had pea shoots. My youngest son’s pre-school class had gone on a field trip to an organic farm, and I was a chaperone. As part of our tour, they cut pea shoots that were growing and handed them out for us to try. I was not a big “greens” fan at that point, so I wasn’t crazy excited to eat anything with stems and leaves. Since I was trying to be a good sport for my son and his friends, I ate them and tried to not make a face. The second I tasted them though, I knew that I didn’t need to act like they were good because they really were good. In fact, they were delicious! If you haven’t tried pea shoots, I’m here to tell you why this vegetable may just become a regular on your springtime menu as well as why they’re so good for you, how much they cost and how to eat them. 

What Are Pea Shoots?

Pea shoots are essentially baby garden pea plants. Since peas are vining plants, pea shoots are the leaves, stems and in some varieties tendrils from the tops of the very young plants. While the peas themselves take 65-80 days before they’re ready to harvest1, pea shoots can be eaten within 2-4 weekswhen they’re several inches tall. Because peas do best in mild to cool weather, pea shoots are available in spring, early summer in some places, and fall. If you’re wondering if they taste more like a pea or more like a green, the answer is both. They actually have a very sweet pea flavor, with a similar texture of leafy greens. 

The texture of pea shoots is one of the reasons why I like them so much. While they’re full of healthy nutrients like leafy greens, the fact that you eat the tender stems makes the texture similar but slightly different. This offers some variety for someone who eats a lot of greens! 

Nutrients in Pea Shoots

From a nutritional standpoint, pea shoots may be baby plants, but they pack an adult-sized punch. They’re high in water, low in fat, low in carbohydrates, and a good source of fiber. They also have high amounts of Vitamins C, E and A and potassium3

Health Benefits of Pea Shoots

Because of its high nutritional profile, pea shoots offer many health benefits. The high levels of Vitamin C and E act as antioxidants and help the immune system to work properly6,7. Vitamin A is important for vision, immune function, reproduction and cellular communication8. And your body needs potassium for proper kidney and heart function as well as for optimal muscle and nerve health9

In addition, pea shoots have a high carotenoid profile3. These act as antioxidants that protect cells and help to block the early stages of cancer. 

How to Buy, Store and Eat Pea Shoots

Pea shoots are abundant at farmers’ markets in the spring, early summer and fall. While they will come already bagged up, be sure and check to make sure that they look fresh and not wilted. 

To store them, wrap them in a paper towel and leave them in an open plastic bag. You don’t want to wash pea shoots until you’re ready to use them. When you do wash them, do it gently under cold water. I like to put mine in a colander and just gently toss them around under the running water. 

You’ll also probably want to trim off any extra-long stems that don’t have leaves. While the stems are very tender, it’s the combination of the leaves and the stems that make these so tasty. 

The nice thing about pea shoots is that they are delicious raw, or you can cook them in a skillet like you would with a stir-fry. If you’re cooking them, you’ll want to do it for a very short time, just before you’re planning to serve the dish. My favorite ways to eat pea shoots are mixed in with salads, on sandwiches or in an omelet. 

Cost of Pea Shoots

The important thing to remember is that a cup of pea shoots goes a long way in any recipe. While you can certainly make an entire salad or side dish out of them, they are usually used to complement or add to something else that you’re serving. I generally pay about $4 for a bag that contains just over three cups. That’s about $1.30 per cup. A cup is definitely a good size serving for however I’m using them. 

Lean on Your Community

Have you tried pea shoots? If so, let us know in the comments how you like to fix them. 

Sources

  1. NC Cooperative Extension Chatham County Center. Plant Peas, Please.https://chatham.ces.ncsu.edu/2017/02/plant-peas-please/
  2. New Entry Sustainable Farming Project. Tufts University Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. https://nesfp.org/world-peas-food-hub/world-peas-csa/produce-recipes/pea-shoots
  3. J. Santos, M. Herrero, J.A. Mendiola, M.T. Oliva-Teles, E. Ibáñez, C. Delerue-Matos, M.B.P.P. Oliveira. April 2014. Food Research International. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0963996914000799?casa_token=pbsqBC0jOy4AAAAA:nnA1mHt5TbqQxo03aH0sc1LBFjH6nfTBl5WgBnSX85C6h_mSbq6YVJMhZBIVbIlhFlKz5Is0
  4. U.S. Department of Agriculture. FoodData Central. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/506159/nutrients
  5. Cronometer. https://cronometer.com
  6. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Vitamin C. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminC-Consumer/
  7. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Vitamin E. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminE-Consumer/
  8. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Vitamin A. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminA-HealthProfessional/
  9. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Potassium. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Potassium-Consumer/
  10. U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service. Dark Green Leafy Vegetables. https://www.ars.usda.gov/plains-area/gfnd/gfhnrc/docs/news-2013/dark-green-leafy-vegetables/

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