Real Food Encyclopedia | Snow Peas and Sugar Snaps

Snow peas and sugar snaps — is there a better snack to healthily satisfy what seems like a basic human need for crunchy foods? Eaten raw or just quickly blanched, both snow peas and sugar snaps need minimal embellishment: their sweet, green pea-taste and super crisp texture are mighty fine on their own. Of course, they also taste great when tossed into a stir-fry, added to a salad or pickled in brine!

Peas have been a staple food since at least 3000 BCE. Information about the history of edible-podded peas (called “snow peas,” “sugar peas” and later “sugar snap peas”) is interesting. The “Oxford Companion to Food” notes that a variety of edible-podded pea probably closer to today’s snow pea was popular in 17th century England. The Chinese are said to have adopted these “snow peas” sometime in the 19th century. US plant breeder Calvin Lamborn developed the “sugar snap” pea variety in 1979 by crossing garden peas with especially thick walls with snow peas. Sugar snaps became a sensation at the time, with even New York Times food writer Craig Claiborne was excited about the new pea variety.

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Fun Facts about Snow Peas and Sugar Snaps:

  • The French term for sugar snaps and snap peas is mangetout, which basically means “eat it all” (as in, the entire pod can be eaten).
  • Some varieties of heirloom snow and sugar snaps include: Carouby De Maussane, Golden Sweet, Mammoth Melting, Sugar Anne, Dwarf Gray and Cascadia.

What to Look for When Buying Snow Peas and Sugar Snaps

Both sugar snaps and snow peas should be bright green, with no yellow, black, mushy or brown spots anywhere on the pod. Snow peas will be flexible and bend-y, while sugar snap peas are crisp (and indeed, “snap” when you break them in two). Sugar snaps are juicier with thicker walls. Both will have teeny tiny peas inside (sugar snap peas tend to have larger seeds), and, of course, both should be eaten whole. They both have a sweet, pea-like taste (for obvious reasons). Snow pea shoots are also a delicacy — look for perky green leaves and tendrils, and the smaller the leaves and stems the more tender the greens will be.

Sustainability of Snow Peas and Sugar Snaps

Pesticides and Snow Peas and Sugar Snaps

The bad news is that snap peas show up not once, but twice on the Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Pesticides on Produce. Imported snap peas make their appearance in the “Dirty Dozen,” coming in at number between 10 and 20, while domestic snap peas show up nearer to 30 on the list. This basically means that any non-organic snap peas you buy probably have some serious pesticide residue on them. The good news is that you can find sustainably grown sugar snaps and snow peas at your farmers’ market! Ask your local pea farmer about his/her growing practices.

Snow Peas and Sugar Snaps and Cultivation

Both snow peas and sugar snaps are, of course, related to garden (aka “English”) peas. But while the garden pea requires shelling, because its tougher pod has a papery, inedible interior, snow peas and sugar snaps have been bred for their edible pods that can be eaten whole: pods, seeds and all. Snow peas (Pisum sativum var. saccharatum) have flat pods with thin walls, while sugar snap peas (Pisum sativum var. macrocarpon ser. cv) have more rounded, thick walled pods that are a bit juicier. Snow peas and sugar snaps grow much like garden peas — on lovely vines with delicate tendrils that bear beautiful flowers, ranging from white to purple. Both are members of the Leguminosae (or Fabaceae) family — aka, the bean or legume family.

Snow Peas and Sugar Snaps Seasonality

Snow peas and sugar snaps are in season from the end of spring through mid-summer, tops, though some ambitious gardeners grow them again as the weather cools moving into fall.

Eating Snow Peas and Sugar Snaps

Storing Snow Peas and Sugar Snaps

Store your sugar snaps and snow peas in a paper bag in the crisper of your refrigerator. They’ll only keep for a few days.

Cooking with Snow Peas and Sugar Snaps

Snow peas and sugar snaps are delicious both raw and cooked. Snow peas are common in Chinese and Chinese-American cuisine, and show up in all manner of stir fries and sides, but they are also delicious eaten on their own or blanched briefly and tossed into a salad. Sugar snaps are perfect vehicles for dips (blanch them briefly first or eat raw), chopped and tossed into salads or mixed in with grains like farro and quinoa. Both also pair well with nuts, citrus, herbs and other spring and early summer veggies (think asparagus, mushrooms, scallions and radishes). Although string-less varieties are starting to hit the market, you will probably need to “de-string” your sugar snaps (less so snow peas) by pulling on the ends of both sides of the pod to remove the tough “string.”

If you’re going to go the cooking route for sugar snaps or snow peas, quick cooking methods like stir-frying or a fast blanching tends to be best in order to preserve the crunchy, green quality of both veggies. Here’s a perfectly simple and delicious stir-fry recipe for either snow or sugar snap peas from Mark Bittman. And here’s a great recipe roundup from the Kitchn on several ways to eat sugar snaps during the spring and summer. And don’t forget about pea shoots! Eaten like a green, they can be sautéed, stir-fried, blanched or eaten raw. Here is a recipe for stir-fried dau miu (snow pea shoots).

Preserving Snow Peas and Sugar Snaps

Here is a yummy recipe for dill-y lacto-fermented sugar snap peas and a recipe for pickled sugar snaps using vinegar. Both snow peas and sugar snaps freeze beautifully — here are some tips. And here is a recipe for homemade snap pea crisps.

Snow Peas and Sugar Snaps Nutrition

Snow peas and sugar snaps are rich in fiber and contain a boatload of nutrients, most notably Vitamin C, Vitamin A, folate, Vitamin K, iron and manganese. They contain a bit of protein (much less than their garden pea cousins, however) and even some calcium.