What is Cowpea (Black Eyed Pea)?

Vigna unguiculata (L.) Walp.

Family: (Leguminosae, Fabaceae)

Cowpea is known as: Black Eyed Pea, Pea Bean, Black Eyed-Bean, China Pea, Bombay Cowpea. Southern Peas, Blackeye Peas, Crowder Peas, California blackeyed peas

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.

Black Eyed Pea (Cowpea) myfavoritepastime.com
What is Black Eyed Pea (Cowpea)? myfavoritepastime.com

The Cowpea (Black Eyed Pea) is very variable in colour from creamy white to brown to black or pink. 

It is kidney shaped or oblong to almost round with a black rim at the sprouting point.

It has a thinner skin than many beans and therefore cooks quickly without needing to be soaked.

It’s widely used in Middle Eastern, AfricanIndian and Greek cuisines.

Please note that cowpea is extremely variable, both in the wild and cultivated plants.

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

Culinary use of Cow Pea (Black Eyed Pea)

Cowpea (Black eyed pea) is mostly grown for its edible dry beans, although the leaves, green peas and green pea pods are also eaten.

It is used as an ingredient worldwide, in various cuisines, to make sweet desserts, fried cakes, soups, sauces and infant food.

It’s usually served with rice in several countries.

In India, it’s cooked like dhal and served with basmati rice, naan or paratha.

In the USA it’s used to make ‘Hoppin John’, Texas caviar and other things.

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 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.

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.

In Africa the leaves are sun-dried, stored and used 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.

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: October 26, 2018

Author: Liz

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

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