If you have heard of sweet peas and confused them with regular green peas, then you are not alone! Even though both terms refer to seeds that grow on plants, the difference between them is that one is inedible, while the other is widely used in the culinary world.
Green peas vs sweet peas, what is the difference? Sweet peas are flowering plants that produce inedible (and poisonous) seeds and are known for their beautiful and ornamental flowers whereas green peas are edible seeds that can be consumed and used in various recipes.
There are also other types of peas like sugar peas, snow peas, and English peas. Read below to learn more about sweet peas and how they are different from regular pea varieties!
What are Sweet Peas?
Sweet peas are flowering plants that grow beautiful white and purple flowers that resemble the wings of a butterfly. To be clear, the seeds produced by this flowering plant are not edible and are poisonous to humans.
The reason why sweet peas get confused with edible peas is because of their name. Naturally, when people hear or read the word “pea”, they tend to think about it in terms of regular edible peas.
But sweet peas and green peas belong to entirely different plant families.
While these plants are affectionately referred to as “Sweet peas”, their botanical name is Lathyrus odoratus. They belong to a family of climbing annual plants that grow, flower, and then die in a year.
This means that they need to be replanted every time the plant dies.
But as they blossom, these plants can easily grow over structures, fences, and even other plants. They produce wing-like flowers that are highly fragrant and great for ornamental purposes.
Interestingly, sweet peas also produce green pods that contain seeds – which understandably adds to the confusion.
But let us explain how they are different than regular peas:
Sweet pea seeds are not edible and are only used to grow more sweet pea plants.
The pods are covered with hair-like silk that botanists believe protects the seeds and helps them disperse away from the parent plant as the pods dry out and split open.
The seeds of this plant are anything but like green peas. They are usually 1/8 of an inch in size and have a distinct dark brown color and can also be quite firm.
Green peas, also known as garden peas, are edible seeds from a different plant species called Pisum sativum. Unlike the peas produced by sweet peas, green peas are edible and can be found in many varieties around the world.
Here are some of their characteristics:
Green peas are usually 7.5-8.5mm in size. They are encased in a usually crescent-shaped green pod that can hold up to 3-4 peas.
Just like sweet pea pods, green pea pods also have hair-like silk on the outside of the pod but they aren’t as prominent.
The peas inside have a light to dark green color and can be extracted by creating a small slit – and since the pods are easy to open, most people use their nails to break open the pod.
Some green pea pods can also tightly wrap around the peas, creating lumps that show where the peas are located inside the pod. If left on the plant, the pods will eventually mature and take on a brown shade.
Once fully dry, the pods shrivel and then open at which point the peas fall down and typically germinate to form more pea plants.
Green peas have a sweet, earthy, and slightly vegetal flavor that can be used in several recipes. The pods can also be harvested at different times as the plant matures which can produce varying flavors.
For example, if the pods are harvested early, then they will produce smaller and sweeter peas with a delicate floral note. Mature peas have a more rounded and balanced flavor which can pair well with several spices, herbs, and vegetables.
Unlike sweet pea seeds, green peas are tender. They can even be soft if the peas are harvested early. Fully mature seeds can also be firm, but once cooked, every type of green pea will take on a softer texture.
Raw green peas have a smooth and almost shiny texture. As peas cook, they release retained water which causes them to shrivel up and take on a rugged appearance, especially if they are sauteed.
Green peas offer a soft and buttery mouthfeel, a quality that can add heartiness and bite in salads and even pasta recipes!
Ever heard of the expression “like peas and carrots”? Well, the origin of this phrase is derived from the fact that peas pair well with numerous vegetables with a crunchy texture, especially carrots.
Peas can be fried, baked, boiled, and even roasted. They can also be sautéed in olive oil and served with a simple seasoning of salt and pepper.
Younger green peas, which provide a sweeter flavor can also be used strategically in recipes that require sweet, vegetal, and subtly floral flavor notes.
Green peas can also be pureed and since they cook easily, you can also mash them for varying textures in soup recipes. In comparison, the only utility of sweet peas is that their seeds can be used to plant more sweet pea plants but for decorative purposes only.
Types of Green Peas
Here are some of the most popular sub-types of green peas:
These are the peas that are most widely consumed around the world. Also called garden peas, they are larger than green peas and have a starchy and sweet flavor that can be used to add volume and texture to any recipe.
English peas come in larger pods that need to be shelled before they are eaten – and no, the pods are not edible as they contain a lot of plant fiber that is difficult to chew and can also be hard to digest.
Snow peas, also known as sugar peas are the closest thing to the nomenclature of sweet peas. Snow peas are essentially just regular green peas that are harvested early.
The reason why they are called snow peas is that the immature pods are flat with an almost translucent appearance which gives them a whitish color that resembles snow.
Unlike mature green peas or English peas, snow peas can be consumed raw since they are quite tender. But they can also be lightly sautéed to add even more flavor. Also, since the pods aren’t as dense, the peas can be eaten while they are in the pod!
Snap peas and snow peas are similar, except for one difference: snap peas have rounder pods with a crispy texture that allows them to be snapped, hence their name!
Just like snow peas, snap peas are also meant to be eaten whole. The pods provide a delicious vegetal flavor while the peas inside offer a sweet and lightly starchy flavor. Thanks to their crispy pods, snap peas can be eaten as a delicious snack too!
Here is a quick comparison between green peas and sweet peas:
|Sweet, earthy, vegetal, and starchy.
|Cannot be consumed – and can also be poisonous.
|Light to dark green, depending on maturity.
|Green pods with prominent silk.
|Light to dark green.
|7.5 to 8.5mm
|1/8 of an inch (3mm)
|Soups, salads, sides. Can be baked, fried, and sauteed.
|Sweet peas produce inedible peas.
Sweet pea is the name of a flowering plant that produces inedible seeds while green peas are edible and available in many varieties, each of which has several culinary uses!
Now that you know the difference between green peas and sweet peas, here are some related questions:
Can green peas be frozen?
Shelled green peas freeze well and can be stored in a freezer-safe bag or container. Freeze the peas at 0F and consume them within 4-6 months for the best flavor and texture. To thaw them, simply move the container to the fridge and defrost them overnight.
You can also store the peas according to your preferred serving size and run a bag under clean tap water to quickly defrost them.
Is sugar snap peas and snap peas the same?
Sugar snap peas are another name for snap peas, which are younger versions of green peas that have tender and rounded pods. Snap peas can be eaten with the pod which provides a satisfying crunch.
Are green peas similar to edamame?
Edamame are immature soybeans that have a green color and a shape that is similar to green peas, but they are completely different. Edamame is technically a bean while green peas is a seed that comes from a pea plant.
Green peas and edamame also have different flavors. Edamame is known for its distinctly nutty, starchy, and sweet flavors while green peas are tender with sweet, vegetal, and even floral notes.