Botanical Name: Cajanus cajan
Pigeon peas are a kind of legume native to India and are a member of the Fabaceae family. They grow as tall as 13 feet (4 metres) and are perennial legume shrubs. The plant is mostly grown for its long pods, which contain tasty seeds.
In both the tropics and subtropics, pigeon peas are a common crop. In many parts of the world, especially in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, they constitute a crucial crop. The plant’s capacity to fix nitrogen in the ground makes it useful for boosting crop yields and general soil health.
Pigeon peas are highly nutritious and offer a range of health benefits. Here is the nutritional composition of pigeon peas per 100 grams (cooked):
Calories: 139 kcal
Carbohydrates: 25.7 grams
Protein: 9 grams
Fat: 1.5 grams
Fiber: 4 grams
Vitamin C: 0.8 milligrams
Thiamin (Vitamin B1): 0.3 milligrams
Riboflavin (Vitamin B2): 0.2 milligrams
Niacin (Vitamin B3): 1.2 milligrams
Folate (Vitamin B9): 216 micrograms
Calcium: 43 milligrams
Iron: 1.8 milligrams
Magnesium: 48 milligrams
Phosphorus: 165 milligrams
Potassium: 397 milligrams
Zinc: 1.2 milligrams
The dried seed supposedly looks like a pigeon’s eye, which is how the name “pigeon pea” came to be used. The Latin words “pipo” and “pipionem,” from which “pigeon” is derived, signify “young bird” or “squab.” The name “pea” comes from the leguminous plant’s characteristics and the pod-like form of its seeds.
The cultivation of pigeon peas dates back at least 3,500 years. The plant is native to the eastern part of peninsular India, including the state of Orissa. Its closest wild relatives, Cajanus cajanifolius, are found in tropical deciduous woodlands in this region.
Archaeological findings indicate the presence of pigeon peas in ancient sites in India. Excavations at Neolithic sites such as Gopalpur and Golbai Sassan in Orissa, as well as Sanganakallu and Tuljapur Garhi in South India, have uncovered evidence of pigeon pea cultivation dating back to around 3,400 to 3,000 years ago.
Pigeon peas spread from India to other regions of the world through trade and exploration. The plant reached East Africa and West Africa, where Europeans encountered it, earning the name “Congo Pea.” It is believed that pigeon peas were introduced to the American continent, particularly the Caribbean and South America, through the transatlantic slave trade, possibly during the 17th century.
Today, pigeon peas are widely cultivated and consumed in tropical and subtropical regions around the world. They play an important role in the cuisines of many countries, including India, Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. Pigeon peas are valued for their nutritional benefits, versatility in cooking, and ability to improve soil fertility through nitrogen fixation.
- Anti-Sickling Properties: Extracts from pigeon pea seeds have shown potential in inhibiting red blood cell sickling, which can be beneficial for individuals with sickle cell anemia.
- Antiplasmodial Activity: Compounds found in the roots and leaves of pigeon peas have been found to exhibit moderate in vitro activity against Plasmodium falciparum, the parasite responsible for causing malaria.
- Hypocholesterolemic Effect: Certain components of pigeon peas, such as stilbenes, have shown a hypocholesterolemic effect. This effect may be attributed to the enhancement of hepatic LDL-receptor and cholesterol 7-alpha hydroxylase expression levels, as well as increased bile acid synthesis.
- Antimicrobial Properties: Extracts from pigeon pea leaves have demonstrated inhibitory effects against various bacterial pathogens, indicating potential antimicrobial activity.
- Antifungal Activity: Pigeon pea extracts have exhibited inhibitory effects against Candida albicans, a common fungal pathogen. The extracts have shown wider zones of inhibition against this particular fungus.
- Hyperglycemic Effect: The aqueous extract of pigeon pea leaves has been found to have a hyperglycemic effect, which may be useful in controlling hypoglycemia caused by excess insulin or other hypoglycemic drugs.
- Hepatoprotective Effect: Methanol-aqueous fractions of pigeon pea leaf extracts have shown hepatoprotective properties. They have been found to prevent alcohol-induced liver damage in rats, suggesting potential therapeutic use in alcohol-induced liver dysfunction.
- Choose dried pigeon peas that are clean, uniform in size, and free from debris or signs of moisture.
- Look for peas with a bright, consistent color. Avoid peas that appear discolored, dull, or have any mold or insect damage.
- If buying in bulk, ensure the bins or containers are clean and well-maintained.
- If purchasing canned pigeon peas, check the expiration date and ensure that the cans are not damaged or swollen.
- Dried pigeon peas should be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry, and dark place. Exposure to moisture, heat, and sunlight can lead to spoilage.
- Properly stored, dried pigeon peas can last for several months to a year.
- Canned pigeon peas should be stored in a cool and dry pantry. Once opened, transfer any unused portion to a covered container and refrigerate. Use within a few days.
- If you have cooked pigeon peas, store them in a covered container in the refrigerator and use them within 3-4 days.
- Avoid storing cooked or uncooked pigeon peas at room temperature for extended periods, as it can lead to bacterial growth and spoilage.
- Discard any pigeon peas that show signs of mold, off odors, or have been stored for an extended period.
Pigeon Peas Recipes
1 cup dried pigeon peas, soaked overnight and drained
1 onion, finely chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1-inch piece of ginger, grated
1 green chili, chopped (optional for heat)
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1/2 teaspoon red chili powder (adjust to taste)
Salt to taste
2 tablespoons oil
Fresh cilantro leaves for garnish
- Heat oil in a pan over medium heat. Add cumin seeds and let them sizzle for a few seconds.
- Add chopped onion and sauté until it turns golden brown.
- Add minced garlic, grated ginger, and chopped green chili (if using). Sauté for a minute until fragrant.
- Add chopped tomatoes and cook until they become soft and mushy.
- Add turmeric powder, coriander powder, red chili powder, and salt. Mix well.
- Add soaked and drained pigeon peas to the pan. Stir to coat the peas with the spices.
- Pour enough water to cover the peas and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pan, and simmer for about 30-40 minutes or until the peas are tender.
- Adjust the consistency of the curry by adding more water if needed. Simmer for a few more minutes.
- Garnish with fresh cilantro leaves and serve hot with rice or flatbread.
1 cup cooked pigeon peas
1 cucumber, diced
1 bell pepper (any color), diced
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 tomato, diced
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon cumin powder
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh cilantro leaves for garnish
- In a large bowl, combine cooked pigeon peas, diced cucumber, diced bell pepper, chopped red onion, and diced tomato.
- In a separate small bowl, whisk together lemon juice, olive oil, cumin powder, salt, and pepper to make the dressing.
- Pour the dressing over the salad ingredients and toss well to combine.
- Adjust the seasoning according to your taste preferences.
- Let the salad marinate in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to allow the flavors to merge together.
- Before serving, garnish with fresh cilantro leaves.
- Serve chilled as a refreshing side dish or light lunch.