Cowpea (Vigna unguiculata) is a legume consumed as a high-quality plant protein source in many parts of the world. High protein and carbohydrate contents with a relatively low fat content and a complementary amino acid pattern to that of cereal grains make cowpea an important nutritional food in the human diet. Cowpea has gained more attention recently from consumers and researchers worldwide as a result of its exerted health beneficial properties, including anti-diabetic, anti-cancer, anti-hyperlipidemic, anti-inflammatory and anti-hypertensive properties. Among the mechanisms that have been proposed in the prevention of chronic diseases, the most proven are attributed to the presence of compounds such as soluble and insoluble dietary fiber, phytochemicals, and proteins and peptides in cowpea. However, studies on the anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties of cowpea have produced conflicting results. Some studies support a protective effect of cowpea on the progression of cancer and inflammation, whereas others did not reveal any. Because there are only a few studies addressing health-related effects of cowpea consumption, further studies in this area are suggested. In addition, despite the reported favorable effects of cowpea on diabetes, hyperlipidemia and hypertension, a long-term epidemiological study investigating the association between cowpea consumption and diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer is also recommended. © 2018 Society of Chemical Industry.