The Folklore. Serving up black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day is said to bring good luck all year long. Tradition calls for the slow-cooked comfort of a pot of Hoppin’ John, the Southern soul food dish of black-eyed peas, collard or mustard greens, and rice. But there are many more ways to enjoy these cream-colored legumes with the prominent black dot thought to resemble a “pupil.” Despite their name, black-eyed peas are not peas at all. They are beans that originated in Africa thousands of years ago. Not only are they delicious, they have an eye for good health too, packing plenty of health-promoting vitamins and nutrients into a tiny package.
The Facts. Also called cowpea, southern pea, or black-eyed bean, the black-eyed pea (Vigna unguiculata) is part of the pea family (Fabaceae). Black-eyed peas grow in long green pods, which are shelled fresh or dried on the vine. Legumes, they nourish the Earth—taking nitrogen from the air and converting it into nutrients that improve soil quality—as well as our bodies. A 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% DV (DV=Daily Value, based on 2,000 calories/day) of iron, protects against anemia. A good source of dietary fiber (23% DV) and manganese (21% DV), black-eyed peas can help satisfy appetite and maintain a healthy weight.
The Findings. Legumes, such as black-eyed peas, are abundant in many vitamins and minerals, an economical source of fiber, health-protecting phytonutrients, and protein. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), legumes are an important inclusion in the diet with well-known benefits for human and planetary health. Regular consumption has been linked with reductions in risk of disease, notably, coronary heart disease and all-cause mortality (Nutrients, 2022). According to a review of 32 studies involving more than one million participants, higher legume consumption was associated with lower mortality from all causes and stroke (Advances in Nutrition 2023).
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.