Snow peas, Sugar Snap Peas, Mangetout, And Common-or-garden Peas, A Definitive Guide

“At home on my doorstep a brown paper bag is waiting for me. Inside is a packet labelled ‘English Peas’ and a slip of yellow paper.
‘I thought you might be missing these peas’ it says.
We are.
‘Enjoy,’ it says.
We do.
3,662 miles from London we lovingly mush them into submission as the windows steam up and our kitchen fills with the smell of home.”

Jenny Lee in The Financial Times, 25 November 2017

What is the difference between snow peas, sugar snap peas, mangetout, and common-or-garden peas? They are all super-quick to cook and add crunch and a bright, fresh green to the look of a dish so it’s worth knowing which is which and what to do with them.

Snow peas and sugar snap peas first come into season in April, and are best in July and August. Both are often referred to as mangetout (or mange tout), but technically mangetout is another name for snow peas. Ordinary peas come into season a little later.

Ordinary peas

In the case of common-or-garden peas they’re quick because if you buy good quality frozen petit pois (not massive cannon balls) all you have to do is empty them, frozen, into a saucepan, and cook gently with a little butter, mint and maybe a little sugar until they are heated through – about five minutes usually.

Truly fresh peas are to die for, but you should aim to eat them half an hour or so after picking them. The longer you leave them the more their natural sugar turns to starch – at a certain point you are better off with frozen peas where this process has been halted. The season for them is May to November. Boil them for a couple of minutes only in just enough water to cover them – no salt, which makes them tough. Heaven!

Ordinary ‘wrinkled’ peas have a  hard wall to their pod.

all about peas
Ordinary ‘wrinkled’ peas have a hard wall to their pod.

“Pea with mint tastes like England in June. The pea’s flavour is as bright and simple as sunshine, which mint over casts with its own damp, gloomy take on summer.”

Niki Segnit, The Flavour Thesaurus

Snow peas (aka Mangetout, or Chinese sugar peas): Pisum sativum var. saccharatum

Snow peas on the other hand are the pods of a type of pea which only develops very small peas so you can eat the entire pod whole.

You can eat them raw, throw them into stir fries, or fry quickly – no more than a couple of minutes – in sesame oil, throwing in some lemon juice and zest, some sesame seeds, and salt – sea salt flakes, or the sparkly, electric Oshima Island Ara Shio Dry salt you can get from The Salt House.

snow pea recipe
snow peas


Sugar snap peas: Pisum sativum var. macrocarpon

Sugar snap peas (see the featured image at the top of this post) are a cross between ordinary peas and snow peas. They have slightly larger peas inside than snow peas, but you can still eat them whole and they are still crunchy and fresh… possibly a little sweeter. You can make a virtue of the larger peas by slicing them in half lengthways to reveal the visually interesting peas. Then throw into a salad.

If you’re a grower, remember it’s all to do with timing with sugar snaps – they grow slowly, so if you don’t pick them regularly you can harvest the maturing peas and eat them as a normal variety.

The don’t keep long, so eat them as soon after you buy them as you can. They need very little cooking.

You can fry them quickly in oil for three or four minutes and then add a little lemon and lemon zest and smoked salt crystals and serve them to pick at with drinks.

You can rinse, put back in the plastic dish you bought them in with a little water and microwave on high (or alternatively steam them) for a couple of minutes. Then refresh briefly in cold water to ensure they keep their bright green colour and add a little butter and mint.

Other recipes using sugar snaps are:

sugar snap peas
sugar snap peas

Pea flowers

You can eat pea flowers which taste of peas, and which will give impact to any salad. If you are lucky enough to have a kitchen garden try growing the beautiful Carouby de Maussane which has beautiful pink and purple flowers which wouldn’t look out of place in a flower garden.

If you grow peas, did you know you can eat the flowers?

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What a great article! Thank you so much 🙂

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