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What is a Split Pea?

By G. Wiesen
Updated May 16, 2024
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A split pea is a pea that has been prepared by being dried, peeled, and split before packaging for sale to consumers. These peas are often yellow or green, and can be used in food dishes found all over the world. Sometimes mistaken for either split yellow peas or split chickpeas, typical split peas are found dried and require rehydration before using in most cooking. A split pea is an excellent source of protein, and can commonly be found in the diets of vegetarians or people who cannot afford or do not have access to meat for frequent consumption.

Split peas are made by drying out peas and then peeling them and finally splitting them. They will begin to split slightly during the drying process, though they are typically split further to make rehydration and cooking faster. A split pea is usually yellow or green, depending on what type of pea was used and is removed from the original pea pod.

A number of dishes from areas all over the world include the use of split peas in their preparation, including dahl, pease pudding, and split pea soup. Dahl is a dish prepared throughout much of India and Pakistan, as well as Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Sometimes also spelled dal or daal, it is a stew made by first soaking the split peas in water, which is then boiled over a period of time.

Turmeric and salt are added, as well as other spices known as a tadka, which typically consist of local spices and ingredients that have been briefly cooked in hot oil. Cumin, chili powder, and onion are all common ingredients in a tadka, though the precise spices used differs from region to region. The final product is a thick stew that has a strong flavor, but requires little in the way of expensive ingredients and provides protein without the need for meat.

Split peas were also used in a medieval dish called pease pudding or porridge, consisting of the peas and spices cooked with a ham bone or joint for flavor. Pease was the Middle English word for peas, and the modern singular and plural forms evolved from it. The final dish had a consistency similar to hummus and was typically eaten with ham or meatballs.

Split pea soup is a dish common throughout much of the United States that is made by first soaking the peas in water for several hours. This is combined with lightly cooked onion and garlic, as well as a ham bone, and left to simmer for a further hour or two. The split pea soup can then be served, or processed with a hand blender for a smoother texture.

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