This week we tested six different kinds of frozen peas from four different stores and set to work systematically tasting them all.
Going into it, we wondered if Birds Eye easy-to-find peas packed in silver paper (Key Foods, $1.29, 10 oz.) could win. We had great expectations for the fancy Bonduelle extra fine petite peas imported from France (Fairway, $2.19 for 16 oz.). We wanted to see if a less expensive store brands from Key Food, Trader Joe's, or Western Beef could sneak into to the top spot since many people have told us to never mind frozen veggie brands, since they are all about the same.
We were fascinated but ultimately frustrated by the "new steam seam technology" microwave pack from Green Giant Simply Steam. A big red stamp on the pack shouts "No Sauce just enough liquid to cook." But we took one taste and knew the Giant's peas were too sweet to be true. Turns out, Simple Steam adds sugar, salt and baking soda to their peas. "Natural taste," indeed. The first few spoonfuls of these peas were great, but the sweetness turned treacly before we could finish a portion.
And the winner is ...
Trader Joe's Petite Peas (Trader Joe's, $1.19 for 16 oz.) were our favorite frozen peas, with the Birds Eye and the Key Foods store brand ($.75 for 10 oz.) as runners-up.
The Trader Joe's peas tasted the most like fresh peas. They had a bright yet sweet green flavor and, though these peas were packed in plastic, there was no plastic or freezer tastes. Plastic freezer flavors and off colors were the downfall of Bonduelle's French peas. Key Food's block of peas are not bad for the price, but there is a noticeable difference in quality when they sit side-by-side with the Birds Eye. Key Food's peas aren't as regular in size and more peas were popped or had tiny brown spots.
When shopping the frozen aisles at Trader Joe's, keep in mind that while these peas were marked as grown in the US, much of their frozen food comes from around the world. Some find that alarming.
The Western Beef peas had a hard outer shell that made them taste more like split peas or a dried bean. That starchiness might work well for dishes where the peas are turned into a mash in the food processor, but did not make them a favorite here.