What is Cowpea (Black Eyed Pea)?

Vigna unguiculata (L.) Walp.

Family: (Leguminosae, Fabaceae)

Common Names:  Black Eyed Pea, Pea Bean, Black Eyed-Bean, China Pea, Bombay Cowpea. Southern Peas, Blackeye Peas, Crowder Peas, California blackeyed peas

Cowpea or Black Eyed Pea is an annual herb, Vigna unguiculata, of the legume family (Leguminosae, Fabaceae). It’s cultivated for its seeds and its edible immature pods.

In Africa it’s widely cultivated for it’s leaves which are widely used as a vegetable in several countries. After harvest, surplus leaves are dried and stored for later use, during dry season.

Origin of Cowpea 

Black eyed pea, originated in Africa, where a large genetic diversity of the species occurs, throughout the continent. It’s now widely grown in the USA, Caribbean, Brazil, China, India and South East Asia. In the USA, it’s widely cultivated in the South for the edible seeds, forage, and green manure.

As a result of human selection in China, India and South-East Asia, cowpea underwent further diversification to produce two cultivar-groups, Sesquipedalis Group (yard-long beans) with long pods used as a vegetable, and Biflora Group, grown for the pods, dry seeds and for fodder

Black Eyed Pea (Cowpea) myfavoritepastime.com

Cowpea Seed Variation

Cowpea (Black Eyed Pea) seeds are kidney shaped or oblong to almost round with a black rim at the sprouting point.

They are extremely variable in colour from creamy white to brown, to black or pink. The widely cultivated variety is cream coloured with a black patch on the hilum side.

Black Eyed Pea (Cowpea) Soup myfavouritepastime.com

Culinary use of Cow Pea (Black Eyed Pea)

Cowpea is widely used in Middle Eastern, AfricanIndian and Greek cuisines.

Although it is mostly grown for its edible dry seeds, the leaves, green peas and green pea pods are also eaten, especially in Africa and India.

The seeds are used as an ingredient, in various cuisines, to make sweet desserts, fried cakes, soups, stews, sauces and infant food. The soup or stew is popularly served with rice or flat bread or traditional breads like Ugali, Nsima or Pap.

In India, cowpea is cooked like dhal and served with basmati rice, naan or paratha.

In the USA it’s notably used to make ‘Hoppin Johnand Texas caviar.

The Culinary Use of Cowpea (Black Eyed Pea) in Africa

Cowpea is the most important pulse crop in the savanna regions of West and Central Africa, where it is also an important vegetable and a valuable source of fodder. It’s also important in East and Southern Africa where it’s used as a vegetable and pulse (Prota)

The mature seeds are cooked and eaten alone, or cooked together with vegetables, spices and palm oil, to produce a thick bean soup, which accompanies the staple food (cassava, yam, plantain).

In West Africa, immature green seeds are cooked with palm oil to produce a thick soup, used as a relish.

In East Africa, the beans are cooked together with maize (corn) kernels and eaten as a meal.

Culinary Use of Cowpea Leaves

Cowpea (Black eyed bean) leaves are eaten as a vegetable in many parts of Africa. The leaves are boiled and fried with onions, tomatoes and spices and served with staple food such as cassava, yam, plantain or Ugali, Nsima or Pap.

In Africa the leaves are also sun-dried, stored for later as a vegetable during dry season.They can be sun-dried after harvest or boiled and then sun-dried.

In Botswana and Zimbabwe, the leaves are boiled and kneaded to a pulp then formed into balls and dried for later use.

Here is a video on how to cook Cowpeas leaves (Kunde in East Africa)

Other Uses of Cowpea (Black eyed pea)

Used as a fodder in West Africa, India and Australia.


  1. Cowpea: A versatile Legume for Hot, Dry Conditions
  2. Cowpeas Article from Learning-Centre 
  3. Cowpea Recipes 
  4. (Prota)

What is Black Eyed Peas (Cowpea)

A summary of the edible Vigna species

  1. Vigna radiata (L.) R. Wilczek. also known as Mung Bean, Moong Bean, Green Gram, Golden Gram, Haricot mungo, Mungo, haricot doré
  2. Vigna mungo (L.) Hepper also known as black gram, urad bean, minapa pappu, mungo bean or black matpe bean. V.mungo and V. radiata are very closely related.
  3. Vigna umbellata (Thunb.) Ohwi & H.Ohashi also known as rice bean.
  4. Vigna aconitifolia (Jacq.) Maréchal. It is commonly called mat bean, moth bean, matki, Turkish gram or dew bean.
  5. Vigna angularis (Willd.) Ohwi & H. Ohashi : Adzuki bean, Aduki Bean or Azuki Bean
  6. Vigna unguiculata (L.) Walp. Also known as: Black Eyed Pea, Pea Bean, Black Eyed-Bean, China Pea, Bombay Cowpea. Southern Peas, Black eye Peas, Crowder Peas, California blackeyed pea. Also includes the yardlong beans.

Last Updated: July 14, 2019

Author: Liz

I love everything food: eating, cooking, baking and travelling. I also love photography and nature.

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