This post may contain affiliate links for your convenience. Read our full disclosure policy.
Making the best use of the fine produce we purchase is not only a matter of wise management of waste and wallet. Some parts of the seasonal fruit and vegetables we are discarding are actually where most of the fiber, vitamins, minerals and protective phyto-compounds like carotenoids and polyphenols are concentrated. These are anti-inflammatory compounds which may protect against certain types of cancer and be instrumental in preventing certain chronic diseases. It’s a sin to throw them out! Here are some vegetables we shouldn’t be peeling:
Peeling potatoes is often associated with a degrading chore, given to the lowest rung in the kitchen brigade, or sometimes as punishment. This is totally useless and nutritionally detrimental! Many of the tuber’s micronutrients are concentrated in the skins. The pulp is mostly starch, the skins on the other hand are rich in potassium, iron, zinc and vitamin C.
I always roast, fry and boil my tubers with skins on. For me it’s a question of texture and aesthetics. Cooked potatoes look so much prettier with the skins on!
But I’ve had family members object to this on three accounts:
1. The dirt. Yes potatoes are normally caked in dirt. Get yourself a vegetable scrubber brush and clean those tubers under running water!
2. Pesticides. Potatoes grow underground so are normally not sprayed. If any pesticides have been used in the surroundings, residuals of these are systemic, meaning that they have uniformly seeped into the entire potato, not just the skins. It’s up to us to choose organically cultivated potatoes if this is something that worries us.
3. Poisonous because of solanine (a glycoalkaloid poison found in species of the nightshade family, such as potatoes, tomatoes, and eggplants that can occur naturally in any part of the plant, including the leaves, fruit, and tubers). Wrong! Solanine is present in wild potatoes. Cultivated varieties are selected to contain infinitesimal, non-dangerous amounts of it. If any solanine is present, it’s in both the pulp and the skins. Solanine is a bigger threat when our potatoes have not been stored in a dark place, or are sprouted or greenish. Equally discard bitter tasting potatoes.
If you absolutely must peel your potatoes for gnocchi or mashed potatoes, you can save the skins, toss them with olive oil and salt and bake them into tasty chips.
I’ve been peeling carrots not knowing that the vitamins, minerals and protective phytocompounds (like carotenoids and polyphenols) are most concentrated in the darker, outer part of the root and which lessen as you get closer to the core. From now on when I make stock, cold pressed juice, cut them for crudité, or when I stew or roast carrots, I will simply scrub them under running water before cooking.
Other vegetables we should’t be peeling are cucumbers! I never peel my long English cukes, but I have been guilty of taking the skins off the variety that’s most common in Italy, mostly because I considered the skins too thick and knobby. Plus they gave me the impression of being bitter. And I was wrong all along! Furthermore, cetrioli bring us iron, magnesium, zinc, copper, manganese and potassium and almost zero sodium––hence their potent diuretic power––vitamin K, various B’s, C and A. That’s if we eat them whole and unpeeled!
I hate peeling pumpkin as much as I hate washing dishes. I recently learned that when cooked––be it butternut or mantovana––pumpkin skin is absolutely edible! Tough and leathery to peel off, pumpkin rind is instead tender, sweet and smooth once cooked. Given the plant’s characteristic growth, it is normally not sprayed with pesticides and herbicides. That means the rind is safe to eat. Some pumpkins are treated with a thin coat of wax. Soak in hot water and scrub clean with a vegetable scrubber and you’re good to go. I slice pumpkin and pan roast it with only a drizzle of olive oil, salt pepper and a sprig of fresh rosemary and/or thyme. And I eat the whole thing. So sweet!
We shouldn’t be peeling zucchini and squash, either. All the flavor and nutrients are in the skin! I never peel zucchini, but I’ve seen recipes that suggest it! If you’re worried about chemical and bacterial contaminants, choose organic zucchini, and never––NEVER––toss out the zucchini flowers of certain ribbed varieties! Here’s what to do with zucchini blossoms. My advice is try both ways and get back to me on which had more flavor, peeled or unpeeled?
Legumes are a big part of my diet. When they first appear in late April/May I eat tons of raw fava beans with Pecorino Romano, or braised until tender in vignarola along with peas, quartered artichokes, lettuce and a suspicion of pancetta. Imagine my frustration when eating/cooking the broad beans when I have to throw out the mountains of emptied out pods after shelling and extracting the precious light green jewels. Well, the good news is that you can cook and eat fava bean pods! I remove the tips and any filaments, cut them in 2-3 inch segments and blanch them for 10 minutes in unsalted boiling water to tenderize. You can eat them immediately dribbled with olive oil and salt, or sautée the parboiled pods in olive oil with minced garlic, leek, white wine and a ladle of their cooking water. Yum.
I used to think that by peeling bell peppers you’d avoid their fastidious ability to “recur” during digestion, with unpleasant burpy effects. Wrong again. It’s not the skin that makes them harder to digest, it’s the compound called capsaicin, which for some individuals may slow the rate of digestion. This means food will sit in the stomach longer causing heartburn or gas. So, carrying out the tedious task of charring the peppers, cooling them in a bag and then painstakingly peeling them with my fingers…was something I could have avoided all along, since the unwanted effects persisted. Peeling peppers is furthermore a nutritional mistake: the skins concentrate the most of the vitamin C, polyphenols and minerals.
Again, never peel your purple lovelies. The antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antiviral power of eggplant, plus its immunostimulant activity and its ability to protect brain cell membranes from degenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s are all in the waxy skins. You know the skins of vegetables are keepers when its extract supplements are sold in health food stores! You should on the other hand avoid the leaves of all nightshades (eggplant, tomato, potato, bell pepper), as they concentrate important levels of toxic alkaloids.
Generally speaking, tubers and roots are vegetables we shouldn’t be peeling. I tried everything when attempting to peel the Jerusalem artichoke: the ginger method with a spoon, the bird’s beak paring knife, my fingernails… nothing. This tuber is so damn hard to peel. Fortunately you don’t have to. Scrub it well under running water and eat it all. If you absolutely must peel your Jerusalem artichoke, save the skins and make chips, they are delicious!
The papery skins of the onion also contain crazy amounts of antioxidants, minerals and vitamin A, C and E. Hard to chew even when roasted, these dry skins can however release all their nutritional goodness in slow cooked stocks, broths and stews. Once cooked all you do is filter the liquid and remove the used skins.
The skin of my favorite ingredient contains impressive amounts of anti-inflammatory compounds rich in antioxidants studied for their cardioprotective, anti-aging, immunostimulant and anti-cholesterol power. What’s more, sulfur-containing compounds in garlic husks and pulp may even play a role in preventing certain types of cancer. Like onion skins, use garlic skins to flavor sauces, stews and broths, as long as you discard them after use. You can extend the life and flavoring prowess of garlic and onion skins by storing them in a sealed bag in the freezer.
The welcome spray that comes when peeling an orange and that clings to fingertips is enough to get me in a good mood. I eat plenty of citrus because I love it and because I prefer getting my vitamin C in juicy mouthfuls rather than tablets. In my household we start the morning with the juice of 1 lemon dissolved in hot water with a tablespoon of maple syrup, and we drink a freshly squeezed “spremuta” a half hour before lunch. I also peel grapefruit and keep wedges in a ziploc bag in my handbag for a zing of energy while out on errands. But what to do with all those citrus peels? Candy them!
Are there any other vegetables we shouldn’t be peeling?
Stay tuned for a follow up no-food-waste post on how to use broccoli stalks, cauli leaves, carrot tops, beet greens, and more!