Snow Pea, Snap Pea, or Mangetout?

What’s the difference between a snow pea and a snap pea? And what is a mangetout?

Peas, Pisum sativum, have been eaten by people from time immemorial, first as wild plants in the Mediterranean region, then as one of the first cultivated farm crops, spreading east to India and grown all over Europe by the Middle Ages. Their seeds were dried and eaten as a staple, like other legumes.

By the 17th century, that had changed. The Dutch were growing pea pods to be eaten whole, which the French called mange-tout — “eat all”. Not long after, peas grown for their fresh seeds were introduced from Italy to France and became a faddish delicacy — the first “garden peas”.

Both snap peas and snow peas are mangetout — but snow pea pods are eaten before their seeds develop, while snap peas are eaten with their developed seeds, and may need to be topped and tailed and de-stringed, like green beans. I think that snap peas can also be eaten in their early stage as snow peas, though the pods won’t be as big as varieties developed especially for this purpose.

I prefer to grow mangetout instead of garden peas, because you don’t need as many plants to get a good, usable amount to eat, and you don’t have to do any shelling. I also prefer to grow short or dwarf varieties, so that I don’t have to use such a substantial trellis, and I can easily rotate my peas with my other crops. This year I’m growing Cascadia, a newer snap pea variety, and Klejeski, an heirloom snow pea.

(Cascadia snap peas in their “snow pea” stage)


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