Cowpeas are legumes that are grown throughout the world as annual crops. This inexpensive crop, packed with nutrition is a widely cultivated especially in the developing countries.
The different varieties of cowpeas are available in a range of sizes and colors. These seeds’ are cooked and prepared as a vegetable in many parts of the world.
Apart from the culinary purpose, cowpeas also serve as rich animal fodder. Moreover the cowpea plant plays are a major role for the environment by promoting nitrogen fixation.
Cowpea Scientific Name
The cowpea is scientifically termed as Vigna unguiculata.
Appearance: The cowpeas more or less look like beans.
Size: Cowpeas are slightly smaller than beans.
Color: It is mostly brown to red in color. However these cowpeas can also have marble green or white color.
Flavor: These legumes are attributed with a rich nutty flavor.
Seed pods: The cowpea pods are grayish orange when ripe. These pods are 10-20 cm long with a diameter of 0.5- 1 cm. Each pod contains around 6 to 13 seeds or cowpeas.
Cowpea Plant: The cowpea plant is an annual legume with a more or less erect stature. It grows up to 50 to 100 cm tall.
Cowpea Leaves: The leaves of the cowpea plant are designed to form three leaflets; the terminal leaflet is symmetrical in shape while the other two are triangular. These leaves are about 10 cm in length.
Cowpeas are available in a number of different varieties.
Black Eye and Purple Eye: This variety can be distinguished by the mild flavor and the brightly colored shelled peas. Its white hilum is usually surrounded by pink, black or light red color.
Cream: This particular variety can be distinguished by its lovely cream color. It can also be recognized by the prominent absence of the ‘eye’ or the hilum from the seed.
Brown Eye: This variety is available in different sizes and can be distinguished by the green to purple colored pods. These tender peas come with a flavor that is characteristic and delicate.
Clay: This variety comes in seeds that are more or less kidney shaped. It is usually dark brown in color.
Crowder: As the name suggests, the seeds of this variety are closely crowded or compacted in the pods. They are round or globular in shape.
Origin of Cowpea
Cowpeas were originally cultivated in the African continent, some 5 to 6 thousand years ago. During those days this crop was a chief cereal farming crop for the ancient West Africans.
As the years went by cowpea was cultivated as a grain crop that was ideal for animal fodder and also as a vegetable.
Cowpea Nutritional Value
These legumes are highly nutritious. It is packed with proteins and essential vitamins and minerals. Cowpeas are also an excellent source of dietary fiber.
Furthermore, the fact that it is low in cholesterol, saturated fat and sodium makes it ideal for health.
The nutrient content enlisted below is as per 172 grams of cowpeas.
Protein – 13g
Total Fat – 1g
Saturated Fat – 0 g
Sugars – 6g
Cholesterol – 0mg
Vitamin A- 25.8 IU
Vitamin C- 0.7 mg
Vitamin E- 0.5 mg
Calcium- 41.3 mg
Iron – 4.3 mg
Magnesium – 91.1 mg
These are the basic cultivation requirements essential for the growth of cowpeas.
Soil: The cowpea plant can adapt to a wide range of soil types. However rich well-drained soil is considered to be ideal for this plant. The soil with a high alkaline content is also known to work wonders for this plant; the soil pH should be in the range of 5.5-6.5. It is recommended to avoid moisture laden soil or any type of soil that tends to retain too much moisture for the growth of this plant.
Temperature: These heat tolerant plants require ample sunlight. A temperature of approximately 65°F is ideal for the plant’s germination.
Apart from being heat tolerant these plants is also shade tolerant.
Please note that this plant is intolerant to frosty weather conditions.
Water: Attributed with the quality of being moderately drought tolerant, this plant can thrive in areas with an average rainfall of below 500mm. However it grows best in areas that have an annual rainfall between 750-1100 mm. So it is important to make sure that the plant is not over watered especially in regions of northern latitudes.
Site Selection: The first step is to choose such a site where the plant will be exposed to full sunlight. Make sure that the site has well-drained soil since moisture laden soil could lead the leaves to turn yellow and even rot.
Enriching the soil with organic materials or a sufficient amount of compost can yield a large harvest.
Sowing: The next step primarily involves the process of sowing the seeds. You should sow the seeds after all the possible threats of frost have gone past.
Make sure that the seeds are planted 1 to 1 ½ inches deep in the soil. A good and firm seed-soil contact is vital for its growth.
It is recommended to maintain a minimum distance of 3 inches between the seeds while sowing. There should also be a minimum space of 3 inches between the individual rows.
After Germination: Once the seeds start to germinate or develop, it is important to subject them to a high quality fertilizer. Doing so will ensure a good a start for the plant.
Harvest: The best part is that cowpeas can be harvested at all the three stages of its maturity that include small green pods, mature beans and dried beans.
The mature cowpeas are generally harvested mechanically. These mature beans are ready for harvest 16-17 days after bloom. The procedure of hand harvest can be tedious and slow but it does ensure less damage.
The uses of this legume covers many areas be it culinary, medicinal and many others.
At its earliest stage, the green cowpeas are relished as a hearty green vegetable dish by people around the world. It can also be canned or frozen.
The mature and dry cowpeas are also soaked and prepared as a main dish or are used as salad fillings.
These protein rich peas have high amino acid content, making them ideal as a nutritional supplement to cereals.
Cowpeas are widely used as an ingredient and flavor enhancer in several dishes.
Apart from being rich in proteins, these legumes are also packed essential minerals and vitamins that are vital for good health.
Regular consumption of cowpeas tones the spleen, thereby enhancing the production of cells that improve immune responses of our body.
Consuming these legumes can induce the process of urination and also provide relief from leucorrhea.
Cowpeas are also good for the stomach and the pancreas.
The cowpea plant has the capacity to fix atmospheric nitrogen with the help of its root nodules. As such it can be used as an excellent manure crop.
This plant also facilitates erosion control.
This shade tolerant plant is ideal to be used as an intercrop with millet, maize, cotton and sugarcane.
These legumes serve as livestock feed in many parts of the world. In fact they are sought after as the only available and high quality legume hay.
Here are some interesting facts associated with cowpeas.
- The world famous, hip-hop music band, ‘Black Eyed Peas’ chose to name themselves after the cowpea. They wanted to be named after a food item.
- The other names associated with the cowpea include southern pea, crowder pea, lubia, black eyed pea, coupe, frijole or niebe.
- The usage of cowpea as animal fodder or livestock feed has lead people to think of it as an inferior food appropriate for ‘poor folks’.
- Cowpeas were cultivated long ago, some 5 to 6 thousand years ago in West Africa.
- Cowpeas are called ‘lobhia’ according to the Hindi language.
- In Telegu, which is another Indian language the cowpea is called ‘alasandulu’.
- Cowpeas constitute an integral part of South Indian cuisines.
Animals like rabbits and deer’s along with insects love to feed on cowpeas. As such it is important to protect the plant from them by using insecticides and repellants.
Common to the bean family, the cowpea plant is also prone to bacterial and wilt diseases. The plant should be subjected to fungicides especially in hot and humid areas.
Cowpea Mosaic Diseases
The mosaic virus is one of the deadliest kind of virus that can ruin the cowpea plant altogether. If the plant is attacked by this virus at an early stage then it shall yield no pods.
One of the most prominent symptoms of the mosaic disease is the appearance of mosaic patterns on the cowpeas. The disease also causes the leaves of the plant to acquire irregular greenish mosaic patterns on them. In some cases the leaves also turn thick and are deformed.
Some of the major cowpea diseases are as follows:
Cowpea severe mosaic virus (CPSMV)
Cowpea mosaic comovirus (CpMV)
Cowpea mottle carmovirus (CPMoV)
Blackeye cowpea mosaic potyvirus (BICMV)
Cowpea golden mosaic bigeminivirus
How to Cook Cowpeas?
There are a variety of cowpea recipes belonging to different parts of the world. However, in order to cook the seeds you should soak them overnight in a bowl of water. You must not forget to wash the peas properly before soaking them. Thereafter, the soaked cowpeas are boiled or cooked in a pressure cooker accordingly in a suitable quantity of water.
Curried cowpea recipe is one of the most popular and devoured recipes, throughout the world. The addition of chillies, onions and tomatoes further enhances the flavor of the peas.
Some of the mouth watering cowpea dishes are as follows:
Moroccan black Eyed Peas
South African Samp
Lobiya/Chawli/Black Eye Peas/Cowpea/Alasandalu curry
Side Effects of Cowpea
There are no side effects encountered as a result of intake of these nutritious legumes. However you are always recommended to consult a dietician if you seem to have any doubts.
Take a look at some close up pictures of this nutritious legume that the world calls ‘cowpeas’: