Green Peas vs Sweet Peas: Unveiling the Edible Delights and Ornamental Wonders

Green peas vs. sweet peas: Understanding the differences

If you’ve ever come across the terms “green peas” and “sweet peas” and wondered what the difference is, you’re not alone. While both are considered peas, they actually belong to different plant families and serve different purposes. In this comprehensive guide, we explore the differences between green and sugar peas, including their appearance, flavour, texture and culinary uses.

What are sweet peas?

Sweet peas are flowering plants known for their beautiful white and purple flowers that resemble the wings of a butterfly. However, despite sharing the name “pea”, the seeds produced by sweet peas are inedible and even poisonous to humans. Sweet peas, scientifically known as Lathyrus odoratus, are a family of climbing annuals that grow, flower and die within a year. They are grown primarily for their ornamental value, as their wing-like flowers are highly fragrant and visually appealing.
It’s worth noting that sweet peas also produce green pods that contain seeds, which can lead to confusion. However, unlike edible green peas, sweet pea seeds are not meant to be eaten. These seeds are usually only used to grow more sweet peas. The pods themselves are covered with hair-like silk, which protects the seeds and helps them spread when the pods dry out and split.

Green peas: Edible delights

Green peas, also known as garden peas, belong to a different species of plant called Pisum sativum. Unlike sweet peas, green peas are fully edible and have a wide range of culinary uses. Let’s look at the characteristics of green peas to understand them better.


Green peas are typically 7.5-8.5 mm in size and are enclosed in crescent-shaped green pods. These pods also have hair-like silk on the outside, but this is less noticeable than on mangetout pods. The peas inside the pods are light to dark green in colour and can be removed by making a small slit. In some cases, the pods may wrap tightly around the peas, creating visible clumps that indicate the location of the pea. Over time, if left on the plant, the pods will ripen and develop a brown colour before eventually drying out and splitting open to release the peas.


Green peas offer a sweet, earthy and slightly vegetal flavour that can enhance a wide range of recipes. The flavour profile can vary depending on when the pods are harvested. Early harvested peas tend to be smaller and sweeter, often with delicate floral notes. As the peas mature, their flavour becomes more rounded and balanced, making them versatile for pairing with different spices, herbs and vegetables.


Compared to mangetout peas, green peas have a tender texture. Young green peas can even be soft, while fully ripened seeds tend to be firmer. However, when cooked, all types of green peas become softer in texture. Raw green peas have a smooth, almost shiny appearance, but when cooked they release their water and may shrink, especially when sauteed. The resulting texture is still pleasant, with a soft and buttery mouthfeel that adds a hearty flavour to salads and pasta dishes.


Green peas are incredibly versatile and can be prepared in many different ways. They can be fried, baked, boiled, roasted or sautéed in olive oil with a simple seasoning of salt and pepper. Their sweet and slightly vegetal flavour makes them an excellent accompaniment to other vegetables, especially those with a crunchy texture such as carrots. Green peas can also be puréed or mashed to create different textures in soups and sauces. Sweet peas, on the other hand, are used for decorative purposes only, as their seeds are inedible.

Types of green peas

There are several sub-types of green peas, each with unique characteristics and culinary possibilities. Let’s explore some of the more popular varieties:

  • English peas: Also known as garden peas, English peas are the most widely consumed variety. They are larger than green peas and have a starchy, sweet flavour that adds volume and texture to a variety of dishes. English peas must be shelled before eating as the pods are inedible due to their high fibre content.
  • Snow peas: Snow peas, also known as sugar peas, are essentially young green peas that are harvested early. The unripe pods of snow peas are flat and almost translucent, resembling snow. Unlike mature green peas, snow peas are so tender that they can be eaten raw. They can also be lightly sautéed for added flavour. The pods of snow peas are less dense, allowing the peas to be eaten while still in the pod.
  • Snap peas: Snap peas are similar to snow peas, but with rounder pods and a crunchy texture. As the name suggests, snap peas make a satisfying snap when bitten into. The pods are edible and can be eaten raw or lightly cooked. Sugar snap peas are often used in salads, stir-fries or as a crunchy snack.


In summary, although green peas and sweet peas share the same name, they differ in their characteristics, uses and edibility. Sweet peas are grown primarily for their ornamental flowers and produce inedible seeds, whereas green peas are edible and have many culinary uses. Understanding the differences between these two types of peas will help you appreciate their unique qualities and make informed choices when selecting ingredients for your recipes. So whether you’re adding the sweetness of mangetout peas to a vibrant salad or decorating your garden with the fragrant flowers of sugar snap peas, you can now enjoy these peas in their respective roles with confidence.


What is the main difference between green peas and sugar peas?

The main difference is their edibility. Green peas are edible and are often used in cooking, while mangetout peas produce inedible seeds and are mainly grown for their ornamental flowers.

Can you eat sweet peas?

No, sweet peas are not edible. The seeds produced by sweet peas are inedible and are even considered poisonous to humans.

Are green peas related to sweet peas?

Although both are called peas, green peas and sugar peas belong to different plant families. Green peas belong to the species Pisum sativum, while sweet peas are scientifically known as Lathyrus odoratus.

Can green peas be used in different recipes?

Yes, green peas are incredibly versatile in the culinary world. They can be used in soups, salads, stir-fries and even as a side dish on their own. Their sweet and slightly vegetal flavour adds depth to many dishes.

Are there different kinds of green peas?

Yes, there are several sub-types of green peas. Some popular varieties include English peas, snow peas (or sugar peas) and sugar snap peas. Each type has its own unique characteristics and culinary uses.

Can sweet peas be used for anything other than decoration?

No, sweet peas are used exclusively for ornamental purposes as their seeds are inedible. The beautiful flowers that sweet peas produce make them a popular choice for gardens and floral arrangements.