If you've ever had cowpeas or Southern peas, you've had black-eyed peas. See more pictures of vegetables.

They may be called black-eye peas, but the "eyes" are sometimes actually brown or purple -- which doesn't make this pea any less delicious.

In this article, we will discuss growing California Black-Eye Peas, selecting California Black-Eye Peas and the nutritional value of California Black-Eye Peas.

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Black-eyed peas are sensitive to cold, can be most easily grown in the South and can actually improve the quality of the soil they are grown in.

Black-eyed peas are tender annuals. Depending on the variety, they can be either bushy or climbing plants. The seeds on the dwarf varieties are usually white with a dark spot (the "black eye") where they're attached to the pod; sometimes the spots are brown or purple. This vegetable is also called "cowpea," "field pea," and "Southern pea."

Common Name: California Black-eye Pea

Scientific Name: Vigna unguiculata

Hardiness: Very Tender (harvest before the first frost)

In the next section, we'll discuss how to grow California Black-Eye Peas.

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Growing California Black-Eye Peas

Black-eyed peas can take almost four months to grow.
Black-eyed peas can take almost four months to grow.

Black-eyed peas can take some time to grow, but that specific time is up to you. For more information on growing black-eyed peas, see below.

Growing California Black-Eye Peas

Black-eyed peas can tolerate high temperatures but are very sensitive to cold: The slightest frost will harm them.

They grow well in the South. Some Northern areas may not have a long enough growing season to accommodate them from seeds; unfortunately, they don't grow well from transplants. If your area has a long enough warm season, plant black-eyed peas from seed four weeks after the average date of last frost.

Black-eyed peas will tolerate poor soil. In fact, like other legumes, they're often grown to improve the soil. Well-drained, well-worked soil that's high in organic matter increases their productivity. Sow seeds directly in the garden 1/2 inch deep and about 2 inches apart. Thin them to 3 to 4 inches apart when they're easy enough to handle.

Harvesting California Black-Eyed Peas

The time from planting to harvest is 70 to 110 days. Pick the pods at whatever stage of maturity you desire -- either young and tender or fully matured to use dried.

Types of California Black-Eyed Peas

Since these black-eyed peas grow well in the South, it's no surprise some of the different types are named after Southern states and flowers. These include:

  • California Black-eye, harvest in 75 days; produces 8-inch pods.
  • Mississippi Silver, harvest in 65 days; has green pods that are streaked with pink.
  • Magnolia Blackeye, harvest in 70 days; is creamy colored and disease resistant.

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Selecting California Black-Eye Peas

Before black-eyed peas are dried or canned, they're bright green in the garden.
Before black-eyed peas are dried or canned, they're bright green in the garden.

California black-eye peas are available year-round, are inexpensive, and can be found in any well-stocked supermarket near the rice, or check the ethnic food section. You may need to visit a health-food store for more exotic varieties.

Packaged or loose, select peas that look clean, are not shriveled, and are uniformly sized with even color and uncracked hulls. Discard any pebbles, as well as any peas with pinholes, a sign of insect infestation.

Some varieties of California black-eye peas are available canned. They offer convenience but are rather mushy and very salty, although researchers have found that rinsing them under cold running water for one minute eliminates up to 60 percent of the added salt.

If stored properly, they can last for a year or more when dried. If packaged, keep them in their unopened bag. Once open, or if you bought them in bulk, store them in a dry, airtight glass jar in a cool, dark spot. Store cooked ones in an airtight container for up to one week in the refrigerator or freeze for up to six months.

California Black-Eye Pea Preparation and Serving Tips

When cooking, it's best to plan ahead; they do not qualify as "fast" food. It's best to soak overnight for six to eight hours. This softens the peas, reduces the cooking time, and removes the gas-promoting undigestible carbohydrates.

But if you haven't planned far enough ahead, you can quick-soak them (although you'll end up with less-firm ones): Put the peas in water and boil for one minute, turn off the heat, and let them stand in the same water for one hour.

After soaking, discard any ones that float to the top, throw out the soaking water (which contains the gas-producing indigestible carbohydrates), and add fresh water to the pot before cooking. Add enough water to cover by two inches.

In the next section, we'll discuss the health benefits of black-eyed peas.

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Health Benefits of California Black-Eye Peas

When your diet's based on protein -- and fiber-rich beans and other complex carbohydrates -- you're more likely to feel full sooner. In addition, a diet high in fiber can reduce your risk of developing diabetes and help lower blood cholesterol levels, which can reduce your risk of heart disease.

Complementing California black-eye peas with grain foods, like rice, makes them a great substitute for higher fat protein sources like meats. California black-eye peas are also filling enough to stave off hunger. The low-fat, high-fiber nature of a bean-centered diet means chances are good that you'll lose weight eating this way. The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend eating 3 cups of beans per week.

Health Benefits of California Black-Eyed Peas

Not only are California black-eye peas low in fat and high in quality protein, but they also have the added bonus of soluble fiber's disease-preventing qualities. The soluble fiber in beans dissolves in water, trapping bile acids in its gummy goo. This lowers blood levels of damaging LDL cholesterol, especially if LDL cholesterol levels were high to begin with, without compromising the level of protective HDL cholesterol.

Because beans are singled out for their soluble fiber, you may not realize they also provide substantial insoluble fiber, which helps combat constipation, colon cancer, and other conditions that afflict your digestive tract.

How? Insoluble fiber absorbs water, which swells the size of stool, puts pressure on the intestines, and moves everything along faster. To help combat the gas problem -- caused by indigestible carbohydrates -- let your body get used to eating beans. Start slowly, eating only small amounts at first, and try to eat them when you know you'll be active afterward; it helps break up the gas.

California black-eye peas contain several types of phytochemicals. They are rich in lignans, which may play a role in preventing osteoporosis, heart disease, and certain cancers. The flavonoids in beans may help reduce heart disease and cancer risk. Phytosterols, also in legumes, help reduce blood cholesterol levels.

Black-eyed peas provide a number of nutrients, are a rich source of fiber and can be used in a number of recipes. For vegetarians, such beans can provide a needed source of iron. No matter how you choose to prepare them, black-eyed peas can be a wonderful supplement to your healthy eating plan.

? Try:

  • Vegetable Recipes: Quick guides to delicious meals using peas and other vegetables.
  • Nutrition: Find out if eating black-eyed peas fits in with your overall nutrition goals.
  • Vegetable Gardens: Grow a full harvest of great vegetables this year.
  • Gardening: We answer your questions about all things that come from the garden.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.