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Cowpeas (Black-eyed peas) Nutrition facts

Cowpeas are small, kidney-shaped beans in the legume family. They are also referred as southern peas or field pea in the Southern states of US, where they desired in specialty dishes. In the botanical nomenclature, the seeds, indeed, are a kind of fieldbeans and not belong to the peas family.

Botanically, the seeds belonged to the Fabaceae family, in the genus: Vigna.

Scientific name: Vigna unguiculata (L.) Walp.

Black-eyed peas
Black-eyed peas, a variety of cowpeas.

Cowpeas are drought-tolerant bushy beans, growing well in a wide range of soil conditions, preferably sandy soils. Small, white, cream, or purple flowers appear in racemes, which develop into long, cylindrical pods enclosing 6-15 seeds.

Blackeye pea plant.

There are several cultivars of cowpeas grown based on their seed-type and color as:

  • Black-eye and purple-eye beans feature kidney shape and blunt ends. Their skin is cream-white with white hilum surrounded by black, pink, or light-red stain. They shell easily and shelled peas are attractive, mild flavored and suitable for processing.

  • Brown eyed-feature white hilum surrounded by brown skin. The pods vary in color from green to purple and have a wide range of lengths.

  • Crowder-Seeds in the pods are closely crowded and tend to be globular in shape.

  • Cream beans-The cream colored seeds feature inconspicuous hilum (no noticeable "eye").

Health benefits of cowpeas

  1. All varieties of cowpeas are vey good sources of vegetarian protein. 100 grams of dry seeds contain 336 calories, and 23.52 g or 42% of recommended daily values of protein.

  2. As in other fieldbeans, black-eyed peas also carry good amounts of dietary fiber; provide 10.6 g or 28% of fiber per 100 grams. Dietary fiber works as a bulk laxative that protect the colon mucosa by decreasing its exposure time to toxic substances as well as by binding to cancer-causing chemicals in the colon.

  3. Dietary fiber has shown to reduce blood cholesterol levels by bringing down reabsorption of cholesterol-binding bile acids in the colon.

  4. Carrying 0.58 mg per 100 g, cowpeas are modeate sources of O-methylated isoflavone compound, Biochanin-A. Biochanin-A is a plant-estrogen. Studies suggest that it plays a definitive role in anti-cancer diet programs.

  5. Black-eyed peas are gluten-free food items. They particularly preferred as gluten-free food alternatives in gluten-allergy and celiac disease patients.

  6. Cowpeas are excellent sources of several B-complex vitamins like folates, thiamin, pantothenic acid, pyridoxine, riboflavin, and niacin. Most of these vitamins works as co-factors for the enzymes in carbohydrate, protein and fat metabolism.

  7. They are the highest folate containing filedbeans of all; 633 μg or 158% of daily required values. Folate, together with vitamin B-12, is one of the essential co-factor for DNA synthesis and cell division. Adequate folate in the diet around conception and during the pregnancy may help prevent neural-tube defects in the babies.

  8. Further, cowpeas are incredible sources several essential minerals. 100 g of dry beans contain copper-94%, iron-107%, manganese-66%, phosphorus-61%, selenium-16%, calcium-11%, and zinc-31%.

  9. Both copper and iron take part in the production of blood cells in the human body. Black-eyed peas, therefore, being rich in both these minerals can be a part of anemia treatmet diet regimen, especially in the developing countries.

  10. Moreover, they are also very good sources of potassium. 100 grams hold, 1112 mg or 24%. Potassium is present inside cell and body fluids, which counters pressing effects of sodium on the heart and therby decreases blood pressure.

See the table below for in depth analysis of nutrients:

Cowpeas (Vigna Unguilata), Raw, mature seeds, Nutritive value per 100 g. (Source: USDA National Nutrient data base)
Principle Nutrient Value Percent of RDA
Energy 336 Kcal 17%
Carbohydrates 60.03 g 46%
Protein 23.52 g 42%
Total Fat 1.26 g 6%
Cholesterol 0 mg 0%
Dietary Fiber 10.6 g 28%
Folates 633 μg 158%
Niacin 2.075 mg 13%
Pantothenic acid 1.496 mg 30%
Pyridoxine 0.357 mg 27%
Riboflavin 0.226 mg 17%
Thiamin 0.853 mg 71%
Vitamin-C 1.5 mg 2.5%
Sodium 16 mg 1%
Potassium 1112 mg 24%
Calcium 110 mg 11%
Copper 0.845 μg 94%
Iron 8.27 mg 107%
Magnesium 184 mg 46%
Manganese 1.528 mg 66%
Phosphorus 424 mg 61%
Selenium 9 μg 16%
Zinc 3.37 mg 31%
Biochanin-A 0.58 mg

Selection and storage

Immature, whole and shelled cowpea can be eaten as vegetables. Canned and whole dry beans can be readily available from grocery stores and markets.

Choose completely dried, intact seeds packed in bags. Avoid insect-damaged, slit, broken, mold-inflicted beans.

To store, place whole dry beans in plastic/steel containers away from moisture and heat. Whole beans can keep well for several months.

Green cowpea pods and shelled beans should be treated like green beans.

Preparation and serving methods

black eyed pea stew
Black eyed pea stew.

The raw, green pods of black-eyed pea are edible before they are fully mature and are often served as a green vegetable. The leaves, shoots and tendrils are also used like spinach.

Although soaking is not mandatory for cowpeas, it quickens overall cooking time, removes anti-nutritional compounds, and enriches the flavor. Soaking in cold water for 3-4 hours is sufficient. Whole beans may take about one hour to cook. Pressure cooked for 10 min with soaking; 10-20 min without soaking. Avoid overcooking which turns them into mashed.

Black-eyed peas can also be used in soups and salads, cooked in patties, or slow-cooked. They are made into a puree or sprouted.

Here are some serving tips:

  • Cowpeas feature in popular New Years Day traditional -southern black-eyed pea recipe cooked with ham hocks, onion, pepper, and garnished with parsley.

  • Soaked and hulled black-eyed peas used in a variety mouth-watering recipes in West-Africa. Cowpea (akara) fritters with Tomato Sauce (Akaraje, in Brazil with shrimp and okra filling), and red cowpeas stew are classical dishes in Nigeria and Ghana.

  • In Turkey, the cowpeas cooked with mustard greens and urfa pepper and served with rice.

  • Baked black-eyed beans also feature in the Middle Eastern Bean Salad.

  • In India and Pakistan where the beans are called as lobia, cowpeas are one of staples employed in stews, and sabzi.

Safety profile

Unlike kidney beans like adzuki, raw cowpeas consumption do not cause phyto-hemagglutinin (lectin) toxin poisoning, a condition which may cause clumping of red blood cells in humans. However, boiling neutralizes other antinutrient compounds like trypsin, and enhances digestibility. (Medical disclaimer).

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Further Reading:

  1. USDA National Nutrient Database.

  2. Fieldbean- Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries-pdf.

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