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Cowpeas are annual herbaceous legumes. The growth and movement of cowpeas make it erect, semi-erect (trailing), or climbing. The main takeaway from a cowpea plant is its seeds. These are high in protein. The leaves and immature seed pods are edible too. Today, information is available regarding the many uses of cowpeas. However, there is very little information available about its history particularly about its domestication, dispersal, and cultivation.

Classification Information:
Kingdom: Plantae
Order: Fabales
Family: Fabaceae 
Genus: Vigna
Species: V. unguiculata
Binomial Name: Vigna unguiculata

Cowpeas Trivia

  • Some people theorized that the use of cowpea as cattle feed is the reason it got its name.
  • Cowpeas are considered one of the oldest domesticated crops.
  • Some people believe that eating cowpeas during New Year can bring good luck.
  • Cowpea is known as a “poor man’s food” since it is used to feed livestock.
  • The dried leaves of cowpea plants are used as a meat substitute in poor villages.
  • Other names for cowpea are black-eyed peas, China bean, and black-eyed bean.
  • Importing cowpeas in Australia is restricted due to the potential invasiveness if they escape cultivation.

Cowpeas Buying Guide

If you are in a grocery or supermarket, you’ll probably find processed cowpeas removed from pods and sold in a plastic pack. In the market, it is a common sight to see a pile of cowpeas in a basin sold in small quantities. Vendors oftentimes have their own specific measuring cup or they also sell by weight, so be sure you know how much cowpeas you need to buy. The advantage of buying cowpeas in a can or sealed plastic package is there is very little chance there is dirt there, so when you buy from the market from an exposed heap or pile, make sure to check it and clean it thoroughly at home before cooking it. If you are looking for freshly harvested cowpeas that are still inside the pod attached to the stem with leaves intact, your best chance is to visit a farmers market, a farm stand, or a farm that grows cowpeas.

Cowpeas Production & Farming in Texas

Cowpeas are grown from seeds. Germination takes up to 10 days in a temperature ranging from 70F to 80. It should be planted in well-draining, slightly acidic soil. It requires full sun. Cowpeas can thrive even in difficult conditions like low rainfall or sandy soil composed of 85% sand but it will not survive frost. The nitrogen-fixing ability of cowpeas means it is good to plant it alongside other crops like sorghum, millet, maize, cassava, or cotton.

Texas is known for developing a particular cowpea cultivar. It is called Ace, a new forage cowpea variety developed in the AgriLife Research Forage Legume Breeding Program at Texas A&M AgriLife Research. This was released by Texas A&M AgriLife Research in May 2018. Ace is ideal for hay production, as a cover crop, and as a wildlife supplemental planting. This is not for human consumption. Some of the qualities of Ace include small seed size (allowing producers to get more seed per pound), high biomass yields, and an extended growing season. Other varieties used in Texas include Iron and Clay.

Because if the nitrogen demand of corn and the ability of cowpeas to infuse the soil with nitrogen, it is best to plant corn after cowpeas when doing rotational planting.


Pest is a serious problem for those growing cowpeas because if left untreated and unchecked, pests can damage crops and result in loss in yield as high as 90%. Pests attacking cowpeas happen twice – either during preharvest or during postharvest. The preharvest enemy is the legume pod borer Maruca vitrata while the pest responsible for postharvest attacks is the cowpea weevil.

Pest control for Maruca vitrata includes the use of insecticides such as teflubenzuron, flubendiamide, methomyl, chlorantranili-prole + lambda-cyhalothrin, or chlorpyrifos. For cowpea weevil, use pirimiphos-methyl, chlorpyrifos-methyl, fenitrothion, or methacrifos.


In Africa, cowpeas are one of the oldest crops to be farmed. It is a common crop in countries like Burkina Faso, Ghana, Senegal, Mali, Nigeria (main importer), and Niger (main exporter). Cowpeas are also produced in countries outside of Africa. Brazil in South America is considered the world’s second-leading producer of cowpea seed. Cowpeas are also grown in Asia as well as Central America.

Cowpeas are native to Asia and Africa. It has been cultivated since ancient times in China. It is believed that cowpeas were cultivated and cooked in Florida and North Carolina as early as the 18th century. In the United States, cowpeas are grown for human consumption and for hay crop as well.

The best places to grow cowpeas would be in Asia, the Middle East, Spain, Portugal and parts of France.


You can buy cowpeas in the market, grocery, or online sold in plastic packaging or in cans.

Enjoying Cowpeas

The main edible part of the cowpea plant is the beans, although you can also eat the leaves, the seeds, and even the pods. You can eat cowpea beans two ways: fresh or dried. It is common to see cowpeas eaten along with cereals. In the South, cowpeas are served with cornbread, rice, or biscuits.


The ideal condition for storing cowpea is in a cool, dark, and dry place. When storing cowpeas, make sure the container is elevated and does not have direct contact on the cold floor that could lead to moisture and affect the quality of the cowpeas in storage. This is why it is better to use containers and not bags or sacks to store cowpeas. During storage, it is also important to keep the container’s lid tightly shut at all times to prevent insects from getting inside and rendering it unsafe for eating.


The seeds of cowpeas are used in making stews and curries. A simple way to cook cowpeas is by cooking in butter (you can add bacon bits if you want). Cowpeas are suitable for gumbo-style cooking using salt and pepper, garlic and onion, fatback or ham hock, and any vegetable on hand. Others use cowpea to make cold pea salad. Others ground cowpeas until it is powdery in form and turn it into flour. Others use cowpeas to make paste or gravy. The young shoots and leaves of a cowpea plant are cooked in a similar way as cooking asparagus, turnip greens, or collards.

Nutritional Benefits:

On average, cowpea consists of 24% protein. It is also rich in amino acids (lysine and tryptophan). Cowpeas are also high in fiber polyphenols that help in preventing cell damage and protect the body from diseases. A diet of cowpeas helps in weight loss, healthy digestion, and improves heart health.



  • Serving Size: 1 Serving
  • Calories: 26.3 1%
  • Carbs: 5.5g 2%
  • Sugar: 0.9g
  • Fiber: 1.4g 6%
  • Protein: 0.9g 2%
  • Fat: 0.1g 0%
  • Saturated Fat: 0g 0%
  • Trans Fat 0g 0%
  • Cholesterol 0mg 0%
  • Sodium 67.2mg 3%
  • Vitamin C 0.6mg 1%
  • Vitamin A 221IU 4%
  • Calcium 35.8mg 4%
  • Iron 0.3mg 2%
  • Potassium 117mg 3%
  • Vitamin E 0.1mg 0%
  • Vitamin B6 0.0mg 1%
  • Folate 35.6mcg 9%
  • Magnesium 14.6mg 4%
  • Phosphorus 14.3mg 1%
  • Zinc 0.3mg 2%

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