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Norfolk scientist grows the world's biggest peas

PUBLISHED: 07:17 06 July 2009 | UPDATED: 10:38 06 July 2010

Mike Ambrose of the John Innes centre with the 160cm pea pod

Mike Ambrose of the John Innes centre with the 160cm pea pod

Norfolk pea expert and scientist Mike Ambrose has grown the biggest mangetout in the world - with pods more than twice the size of typical garden varieties.

The giant peas

Norfolk pea expert and scientist Mike Ambrose has grown the biggest mangetout in the world - with pods more than twice the size of typical garden varieties.

His supersize peas have pods which have grown to an amazing 165mm or 6.49 inches long.

And the variety, which originated from Spain, also has a terrific taste, says Mr Ambrose, who is curator of the world's biggest collection at the John Innes Centre on Norwich Research Park.

He is responsible for safeguarding 3,500 varieties in a temperature-controlled store and each year he grows about a tenth of the collection to assess the characteristics of the peas.

The giant peas

To his surprise, the old-established variety, which has a scientific name - JI (John Innes) 2144 - has produced a succession of massive mangetout pods.

He decided to grow this type of market pea, which was found growing in Spain, and added to the collection in the 1970s, to see what it would be like.

And he will be showing plant breeders the potential of this variety next week.

Mr Ambrose, who grows the peas in a field at the John Innes Centre, said that conditions this year had been particularly good.

"I've never seen supersize peapods quite this big," he added.

The combination of good weather, rain and genetic material had resulted in the longest mangetout pod ever recorded at 165mm, he said.

"I picked some last week which were 160mm but the bar has been raised again," he added.

When he took them to the JIC's kitchen, the response from staff was: "Are they for real?"

In Spain, mangetout are typically included in dishes of paella.

While peas can remain viable for about 30 years when stored in conditions of low humidity and low temperature, Mr Ambrose likes to plant the seeds again after about 15 to 20 years.

While peas are popular in salads and in stir fry dishes, mangetout or snow peas have been around for hundreds of years.

Usually a mangetout pod would be about three or maybe four inches long, he said.

"We've just grown them in the field and then we study them, so this was a real surprise.

"Whether it is just this particular year with all the rain, it shows how big they can get."

It is described as "a market pea with a large inflated pod", said Mr Ambrose. "But maybe this whopping pea should have a more exciting name than JI2144," he added.

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