Black-eyed peas are a big part of New Year's dinners in the United States. And home-cooked meals in the Deep South often include black-eyed peas, turnip greens and cornbread.
But University of Georgia food scientists are trying to broaden the ways Americans view, and eat, these high-protein peas.
Kay McWatters and other food scientists are working through the Bean-Cowpea Collaborative Research Support Program in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
One thing they are working on is akara, a deep-fried cowpea (black-eyed pea) paste or flour. Akara is a staple in many people's diets in West African countries, McWatters said. But it's fairly unknown in the United States.
Southerners may feel right at home with it, though. After all, it looks much like hushpuppies.
But akara has a much higher protein content because of its legume base. It has a pleasing beany flavor, McWatters said. It's typically seasoned with salt, minced onion and either bell or spicy peppers.
The UGA scientists' past research has shown that Americans like akara because of its ethnic appeal. But they see it only as a snack food. The main drawback is its high fat content.
Other research showed that Americans would best accept akara as a fast food or a fully-cooked, frozen, reheatable item.
McWatters and other food scientists at the Georgia Experiment Station in Griffin, Ga., are trying to cook up an akara product Americans will warm up to. To do that, they're studying ways to reduce its fat content and make it easy to prepare.
One hot product they're testing is something Holly Huse, a graduate student working with McWatters and Yen-Con Hung, calls "peapups."
Huse had a consumer taste panel try variations of the product. The peapups they liked best were made with 100 percent cowpea flour.
"Akara may not be something everyone has heard of," Huse said, "but when people taste it, they like it."
Want to conduct your own taste test? Cook some yourself. Peapups are simple to prepare.
(Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)