Published May 1, 2001. From Cook's Illustrated.
Why do frozen peas actually taste better than fresh peas?
Throughout the tasting of our vegetable soup, we came to depend on frozen peas. Not only are they more convenient than their fresh, in-the-pod comrades, but they taste better. Test after test, we found frozen peas to be tender and sweet while fresh peas tasted starchy and bland. Trying to understand this curious finding, we looked to the frozen food industry for some answers.
Green peas are one of the oldest vegetables known to humankind. Yet despite this long history, they are relatively delicate; fresh peas have little stamina. Green peas lose a substantial portion of their nutrients within 24 hours of being picked. This rapid deterioration is the reason for the starchy, bland flavor of most "fresh" peas found at the grocery store. These not-so-fresh peas might be several days old, depending on where they came from and how long they were kept in the cooler. Frozen peas, on the other hand, are picked, cleaned, sorted, and frozen within several hours of harvest, which helps to preserve their delicate sugars and flavors. When commercially frozen vegetables began to appear in the 1920s and 1930s, green peas were one of the first among them.
Finding good frozen peas is not hard. After tasting peas from the two major national frozen food purveyors along with some from a smaller organic company our panel of tasters found little difference among them. All of the peas were sweet and fresh, with a bright green color. So unless you grow your own or can stop by your local farm stand for fresh picked, you're better off cruising up the frozen food aisle for a bag of frozen peas.