Originating in Asia, the black-eyed pea is thought to have been introduced to the United States through the African slave trade. This small beige bean has a black circular "eye" at its inner curve. It can be purchased fresh or dried. Though originally cultivated for animal fodder, black-eyed peas are now a popular legume (particularly in the South) and are essential in the traditional dish hoppin' john. Also called cowpea and, if the "eye" is yellow, yellow-eyed pea.
From The Food Lover's Companion, Fourth edition by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst. Copyright © 2007, 2001, 1995, 1990 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.