The cowpea (Vigna unguiculata) is one of several species of the widely cultivated genus Vigna. Four subspecies are recognised, of which three are cultivated (more exist, including textilis, pubescens, and sinensis):
- Vigna unguiculata subsp. dekindtiana, the wild relative of the cultivated subspecies
- Vigna unguiculata subsp. cylindrica, cultivated, catjang
- Vigna unguiculata subsp. sesquipedalis, cultivated, yardlong beans
- Vigna unguiculata subsp. unguiculata, cultivated, black-eyed pea
Cowpeas are one of the most important food legume crops in the semiarid tropics covering Asia, Africa, southern Europe and Central and South America. A drought-tolerant and warm-weather crop, cowpeas are well-adapted to the drier regions of the tropics, where other food legumes do not perform well. It also has the useful ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen through its root nodules, and it grows well in poor soils with more than 85% sand and with less than 0.2% organic matter and low levels of phosphorus. In addition, it is shade tolerant, so is compatible as an intercrop with maize, millet, sorghum, sugarcane, and cotton. This makes cowpeas an important component of traditional intercropping systems, especially in the complex and elegant subsistence farming systems of the dry savannas in sub-Saharan Africa. In these systems the haulm (dried stalks) of cowpea is a valuable by-product, used as animal feed. Research in Ghana found that selecting early generations of cowpea crops to increase yield is not an effective strategy. Francis Padi from the Savannah Agricultural Research Institute in Tamale, Ghana, writing in Crop Science, suggests other methods such as bulk breeding are more efficient in developing high-yield varieties.
Cowpeas are a common food item in the Southern United States, where they are often called black-eyed peas or field peas. Two subcategories of field peas are crowder peas, so called because they are crowded together in their pods, causing them to have squarish ends, and cream peas. Prior to the American Civil War, cowpeas were rarely eaten by Americans, however and were used primarily as fodder. Southern tradition and lore holds that during the Siege of Vicksburg, when food ran drastically short, starving citizens of the city found that the peas, which they had up to that time only considered animal feed, were rather tasty if boiled with whatever meat was available. Though this lore has largely been discounted through history, it remains a loved tradition in the Southern US.
In India, in Tamil it is called Kārāmani, or Thatta Payir, the beans are called thatta kaai. In Oriya, it is called jhudunga (ଝୁଡୁଂଗ), in Bengali, it is called barboti kolai, in Kannada, it is called Alasande (ಅಲಸಂದೆ), in Telugu, it is called Alasandalu (అలసందలు), Bobbarlu (బొబ్బర్లు). In Hindi, it is called lobhia or bura (when used as a string bean). In Gujarati, these are called chola or chowla (ચોળા). In Marathi, these are called chawali or chavali (चवळी). It is an integral part of the cuisine in the southern region of India.
In Tamilnadu, India, between the Tamil months of Maasi (February) and Panguni (March), a cake-like dish called kozhukattai (steamed sweet dumplings - also called adai in Kerala) is prepared with cooked and mashed cowpeas mixed with jaggery, ghee, and other ingredients. Thatta payir in sambar and pulikkuzhambu (spicy semisolid gravy in tamarind paste) is a popular dish in Tamil Nadu.
In Turkey, cowpeas can be lightly boiled, covered with olive oil, salt, thyme, and garlic sauce, and eaten as an appetizer. Also, they are cooked with garlic and tomatoes. And they can be eaten in bean salad.
Production and consumption
Subsistence farmers in the semiarid and subhumid regions of Africa are the major producers and consumers of cowpeas. These farmers not only use the beans for human consumption and animal feed, but also use the leaves and fruits for cooking. Cowpeas are widely grown in East Africa and Southeast Asia, primarily as a leafy vegetable. The amount of protein content of cowpea's leafy parts consumed annually in Africa and Asia is equivalent to 5 million tonnes of dry cowpea seeds, representing as much as 30% of the total food legume production in the lowland tropics. Cowpea fields cover 12.5 million hectares worldwide annually. West Africa and Central Africa are the leading cowpea-producing regions of the world, producing 64% of the estimated 3 million tonnes of cowpea seed produced annually. Nigeria is the world's leading cowpea-producing country. Other countries in Africa, for example, Ghana, Niger, Senegal, and Cameroon, are also significant producers. Outside Africa, the major production areas are Asia, Central America, and South America. Brazil is the world's second-leading producer of cowpea seed, producing 600,000 tonnes annually.
- "The Plant List: A Working List of All Plant Species".
- "International Plant Names Index, entry for Vigna sinensis".
- "International Plant Names Index, entry for Pl. Jav. Rar. (Hasskarl)".
- Singh, B.; Ajeigbe, H. A.; Tarawali, S. A.; Fernandez-Rivera, S.; Abubakar, M. (2003). "Improving the production and utilization of cowpea as food and fodder". Field Crops Research 84: 169–150. doi:10.1016/S0378-4290(03)00148-5.
- Blade, 2005[specify]
- Scott, Christina (2008-04-10). "Sub-Saharan Africa news in brief: 25 March–9 April". SciDev.Net. Science and Development Network. Retrieved 2008-04-13.
- Shaw, Monica (2007-10-28). "100 Most Protein Rich Vegetarian Foods". SmarterFitter Blog. Retrieved 2008-04-06.
- "Cowpea with coconut milk". Cecilia Carvalho. Archived from the original on 2011-02-02.
- "Cowpea with olive oil". ozlem. Retrieved 2012-01-19.
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