Basque Farmers Cultivate the Caviar of Green Peas

Imagine a green pea of such flavor that it’s referred to by restaurateurs as “green caviar.” But that’s the status achieved by the guisante lagrima or “tear pea.” It may be small, but it’s currently valued at $100 a pound, according to a recent article in the New York Times ( When eaten, the tear pea’s delicate skin bursts to release a sweetness with just a touch of salt; the experience has been likened to an explosion in the mouth.
The tear pea is currently being grown in the Basque country of northern Spain, where the salty sea winds may contribute something to the precious vegetable’s flavor. It’s become the darling of super-star chefs such as the Roca brothers of El Celler de Can Roca. But because the tear pea is a poor traveler, losing flavor quickly once it’s been picked, chefs have had to develop a symbiotic relationship with the farmers patient enough to produce them.
Growing tear peas requires a special commitment. Like all peas, they are cool-weather vegetables, sown in late winter and harvested about four months later. That’s where the similarity ends. Farmers must keep an eagle eye on tear peas as they ripen, testing each pod to be sure that the peas are ready before picking. And once they’ve been picked, they must be literally rushed to their destination, where they are shelled and prepared for a variety of dishes. Cooking is done in just a matter of seconds, since time is of the essence when it comes to tear peas.
Fussy and demanding, the tear pea’s flavor is considered worth the effort. Its success demonstrates the truth of a basic rule of gastronomy: fresh and local is best.