Three Types of Peas and How to Spot the Difference

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Peas are one of the easiest vegetables to grow in your garden. They are typically ready to use in many kinds of dishes in the spring. Being legumes, they are good, not only to eat but also for the soil.

What variety of peas is the best?

English Peas, Snow Peas, Sugar Snap Peas. They seem to be just peas, but they are quite different in look, taste, and cooking times. This article gives you every detail of each pea type, so you’ll never look at a pea the same way again!

Knowing how to spot their differences will make a choice a lot easier.

English Peas

English peas (garden peas, shelling peas) are the most popular type of peas.

• Botanical Name: Pisum sativum
• Soil Requirement: Loamy
• Sun Exposure Full to partial sun
• USDA Growing Zones 2-9

English Peas Description

English garden peas plant

English peas have fleshy, smooth, and tubular green pods that are flat and curved. They have seeds that are round, plump, and sweet tasting.

The pods of the English are not edible because they are fibrous and tough. They need to be shelled to be edible. Shelling can be done once they are fully plumped up.

English peas are delicious and nutritious. Since they need to be shelled, many people opt to purchase frozen English peas that are already shelled from the market. However, they may not be as tasty as the freshly shelled peas.

English peas mature fast. Some varieties can be harvested after 50 days.

Snow Peas
Snow Peas

Snow peas are often called Chinese pea pods

• Botanical Name: Pisum sativum var. Saccharum
• Soil Requirement: Drier, enriched soil
• Sun Exposure: Full to partial sun
• USDA Growing Zones: 2 – 9

Snow Peas Description

Snow peas have flat and edible pods. The seeds of snow peas. You do not need for the peas inside to be plump and the seeds to fill out before harvesting but snow peas still take the longest to mature.

Snow peas have edible pods. They are specifically grown for their pods and not their seeds inside.
Chinese recipes often use snow peas; thus, they are commonly called Chinese peas. Snow peas can be easily recognized by their flat shells and their inside do not have a pea shape.

Sugar Snap Peas

Sugar Snap Peas

Sugar snap peas come between English peas and snow peas.

• Botanical Name: Pisum sativum var. macrocarpon
• Soil Requirement: Well-drained loamy soil
• Sun Exposure: Full to partial sun
• USDA Growing Zones: 3-11

Sugar snap peas have thick pod walls and round pods. They have some characteristics that are like English peas and snow peas. They are edible without shelling.

The pods of sugar snap peas increase in size upon maturity and create a lumpy or irregular appearance. They have a sweet flavor and crispy texture.

They should be cooked only for a short time or served raw to maintain their crispiness.

Sugar snap peas were created to be a cross between the English peas and snow peas in the 1970s.

How to Spot the Difference between English peas, snow peas, and snap peas.

It can be confusing to differentiate English peas, snow peas, and snap peas. However, it is important that you know their differences so you can choose the right type of peas for your recipes.

Appearance

English Peas

English peas have pods that are long, skinny, and dark green. The peas inside are round and brighter green. An English pea is about 3-4 inches long and its pods are about the size of a small pearl. They also have small, white seeds. English peas are available year-round.

Snow Peas

Snow peas come with pale green pods with small, flattened peas inside. The pods are flat and wide and are about two to three inches long.
Snow peas are best in Fall and Spring but are available year-round.

Sugar Snap Peas

Snap peas come between English peas and snow peas. Sugar snap peas have more rounded pods than snow peas. They also have tough strings on the edges of their shells, like snow peas. There are some varieties of sugar snap peas that do not have strings.

March through April are the peak season of sugar snap peas, but they are also available year-round.

Taste and Flavor

English Peas

You need to shell the English peas and throw away the pods before eating them. You can enjoy them raw or cooked once shelled.

However, the pods have a sweet, tender, crunchy, and mild flavor. They are also perfect to add to your soups and stir-fries.

Snow Peas

You can eat snow peas whole while still in the pod, meaning, both pod and peas are edible and are sweet, tender, and crisp. The ends of snow peas are trimmed, and they are used whole either blanched with butter or stir-fried.

The pods are technically unripe and what can be seen within the pod are immature and not spherical. The pod itself does not contain fiber that should not be digested so it can be consumed in whole.

The pods have a slightly sweet taste, though brighter in appearance than English peas.

When added to a vegetable tray or salad, you can also eat raw snow peas. You can also add a little bit of olive, salt, and pepper to enjoy them as a healthy, snack. They are however commonly stir-fried in many Chinese dishes.

They grow out of purple and white flowers and at a young stage, their flowers and leaves can be eaten, too.

Sugar Snap Peas

Sugar snap peas, being a cross between English peas and snow peas, have a slightly sweeter taste and do not need to be shelled or their pods discarded for them to be eaten.
Their outer pods are tender and crisp, and their inner pods are sweet. Just like snow peas, Sugar snap peas may be eaten raw. Sugar snap peas are edible and crisp. They do not need to be shelled.

They are often used in the same recipes as snow peas. They also freeze well.

The pods of sugar snap peas look more like the pods of English peas and are rounder than the pods of snow peas. The pods of sugar snap peas are edible and have a semi-sweet flavor. That is why they are called sugar snap peas.

Sugar snap peas are best eaten raw. They are crunchy when raw, but you can also consume them as you would eat snow peas.

How to Harvest Peas

Any variety of peas are easy to plant. Most types of peas can be harvested after 60 to 70 of planting. Hold the pea vine with one pull off the pea pods with your other hand. This will avoid damaging their stems.

Place the peas in a cold-water bath for a few minutes after harvesting and then dry them. Peas have the best flavors when eating them after picking but they can last in the refrigerator for about a week.

When is the best time to harvest peas?

English Peas

Harvest English peas once you notice their pods are almost round. After picking the peas, remove them from the pod. The pods are inedible, so they need to be shelled.
If you harvested a lot of English peas, place them on a baking sheet in a single layer. Store them in an air-tight bag and freeze.

English peas in supermarkets are typically canned or frozen. You can also find fresh English peas in farmers’ markets.

Snow Peas

Harvest snow peas once they have reached their mature length. Check the seed packet for this information. The peas in the pod will not be too visible. Some varieties of snow peas have string-like fibers that you need to remove before cooking.

Sugar Snap Peas

Harvest sugar snap peas while still growing, and their pods are tender. You will notice they are starting to swell but not yet fully plump. Like snow peas, sugar snap peas also have string-like fibers that you need to remove before cooking.

Fresh sugar snap peas are available at the fresh produce sections of supermarkets. Frozen sugar snap peas are also available.

Peas are one of the most versatile vegetables. They can be eaten alone, stir-fried, cooked in soup, and pureed. They can also be eaten raw from your garden. They are extremely delicious, too.
Peas are a great source of potassium, Vitamin A, B, and B6, folate, fiber, iron, and magnesium.

While they are referred to as vegetables, they are legumes. Legumes produce pods that have seeds inside them. Other than peas, peanuts, French beans, and chickpeas are also legumes.

While peas are easy to grow, it can be a challenge to choose the variety and types of peas to grow. There are three types of peas: English peas, sugar snap peas, and snow peas.

While peas are easy to grow, choosing the variety and types of peas you want to grow can be a challenge. Every kind of peas has multiple names making a choice more confusing.

Final Thoughts

While you may often refer to English peas, snow peas, and sugar snap peas as simply peas, it is essential that you can tell one from the other. There are differences in their pods. More importantly, there are differences in how each variety of pea can be cooked and eaten.

Knowing the differences between peas will also allow you to choose which variety of peas you want to grow.

Jenny Marie
Tribal Writer

Edited By
Patricia Godwin

Patricia Godwin

Patricia has many years of experience as a content writer on various subjects, but her first love is gardening. She’s never met a plant she didn’t like and, consequently, she writes about every type of plant you can think of. Once an avid gardener with a herb garden, a succulent rockery, and a rose garden – to mention a few. Nowadays, she’s constantly on the move searching for interesting plants to bring to your attention; and explain to you all the details you need to grow, care and maintain these plants.

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