Not quite a pea and not quite a bean, the cowpea is sometimes known as Africa’s miracle crop… but why? To understand everything this heritage crop has done for Africa, and for people across the world, we need to look at the properties of the plant, its origins and the journey it has taken to get where it is today.
History in Africa
Thousands of years ago, the cowpea grew wild across Africa. Hunter-gatherers of the time saw potential in the humble pulse and turned their efforts to making the cowpea one of Africa’s first domesticated crops. With the ability to farm, African people began to develop booming societies.
Migration Across the World
When invading ships landed on beaches across Africa, slavers not only uprooted the African people but the cowpea too, taking it as food for their cattle and spreading it around the world through their travels. During this tragic period, the cowpea made its way to South-East Asia, the Mediterranean and across the Americas. It is said that the presence of the cowpea in new, foreign places offered the African people a small taste of home when they truly needed it most.
Properties and Cultivation
By the time the cowpea had been spread around the world, a greater understanding of science and botany had been reached. This allowed the world to better understand the crop’s nutritional benefits and to experiment with cultivation methods.
The plant was found to thrive in hot, dry conditions – and was even able to withstand long periods of drought. In 1903, a slave-born African American botanist named George Washington Carver was the first to raise awareness about the cowpea’s ability to renew the nutrients in soils ravished by cotton production of the time. The need for soil renewal and the rotation of crops is just as relevant today.
With his study, Carver also found that cowpeas were a great source of protein and carbohydrates. Today we know of many more amazing benefits of the cowpea. It is known for its immune-boosting properties, and is good for bone health. Packed with plenty of iron, zinc, magnesium, manganese and phosphorous, the cowpea is also naturally gluten-free, and has a very low glycaemic index.
The Miracle Crop Today
Niger and Nigeria now produce over two thirds of the world’s cowpeas every year. With the perfect climate to cultivate the crop, these countries have maximised cowpea production in order to boost their economies and provide exceptional nutrition to the local people.
There are many different varieties of cowpeas available around the world today, each with a unique flavour and delicate texture. With the need for healthy foods and more responsible production of crops growing greater each day, the cowpea has never been more necessary. And the recipes using cowpeas, have never been more delicious. Try these cowpea falafel wraps or veggie balls and experience the miracle for yourself.
If you are looking for nutritious and tasty recipes using the cowpea and other fantastic seasonal ingredients take a look at our Knorr recipes.