Peel This, Not That: A Quick Fruit & Vegetable Guide
We all know the benefits of eating lots of fruits of veggies. But guess what? You may be peeling away the most nutritious part of the plant.
Does this scene sound familiar? You’re in the kitchen, looking for a quick and easy way to get some vegetables in your dinner. You spy a bag of potatoes in the corner of the pantry, some acorn squash hiding in a bowl with a couple of onions, or perhaps some carrots languishing in the crisper. Any of these could easily be chopped, tossed with some oil, then popped in the oven to roast while you get on with making the rest of your meal. But ... you don’t feel like taking the time to peel them, and who knows? You might skin a tender knuckle in the process! You think you might just forego peeling, but don’t want to be accused of laziness. What to do?
Well, first of all, take it easy on yourself! Shortcuts in the kitchen do not make you lazy — they’re efficient. Talk to any restaurant chef and they’ll let you know the entire trade runs on shortcuts that help them get a huge volume of food out of the kitchen and onto the table as quickly as possible. Second, think about why you want to get fresh veggies on your plate in the first place. Is it because they’re healthy? If so, then all you time-savers should rejoice. Leaving the skins on most fruits and veggies makes them even healthier: Peels are often packed with fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Why We Peel
So why the obsession with peeling? Most folks will give you one of two reasons why they peel: cleanliness or taste. Let’s start with the issue of cleanliness. Given all the media attention to food recalls, salmonella outbreaks, and the use of toxic pesticides, it’s understandable that folks would be wary about eating peels. The danger food poses to you varies depending on how it was grown and how permeable the skin is. Interestingly, we generally don’t peel most of the foods on the EWG’s famed “Dirty Dozen” list of foods with the highest exposure to pesticides. The list, updated each year in April here, includes:
| | | |
| -------- | -------------- | -------------- |
| Grapes | Strawberries | Tomatoes |
| Spinach | Peaches | Celery |
| Nectarines | Cherries | Potatoes |
| Apples | Pears | Bell peppers |
The bottom line? All of your produce (organic or not) should be washed well before using. Use your hands to scrub them under cold water, or use a stiff brush for produce with firm, thick skins. You don’t need to use any cleaning agents — the point is to get chemicals off your food, not add more! Giving the washed items a good wipedown afterward with a clean towel or paper towels will help clean them off even further.
And yes, you still need to wash produce that you intend to peel: In December, the FDA released a report showing that 17% of the avocados they tested harbored harmful bacteria on their skin. The risk comes when you use a knife to slice open the fruit; the bacteria can easily be transferred from skin to knife and into the flesh of the avocado. So get scrubbing!
But what about taste? Thankfully, this area is less fraught with danger. While there are some fruits and vegetables you’ll always want to peel (no munching on pointy pineapple skins for me, thanks), many can be eaten just as they are, and will reward your lack of effort with extra health benefits. Whether you or your family like the taste and added texture is just a matter of personal preference. Carrots, for example, can be roasted with the skins on with no noticeable difference in flavor if the carrots are small and young. The larger and older the carrot, the tougher the skin — and the greater the chance the skin will impart a bitter tinge to your finished dish. Give it a try, and if it tastes good to you — go for it!
Don’t Eat These
While you might be able to find creative uses outside the kitchen for these foods, these are the ones you generally want to make sure don’t end up in your mouth:
Proceed With Caution
- Citrus: The zest, of course, is a great way to flavor baked goods, add zip to marinades and dressing, or for a quick gremolata for garnish. But it doesn’t have to stop there. While you might not want to bite into an orange like you would an apple, we used a whole orange — peel and all! — in this Light Orange Cake recipe.
- Watermelon: You don’t want to eat the green peel of a watermelon, but you can eat the rind. There are over 1,000 recipes for watermelon rind on Yummly; why not try this one?
- Winter Squash: Summer squash is a no-brainer: leave the peels on your zucchini, summer squash, and pattypan squashes. Like winter itself, peeling winter squash is a grayer area. Generally speaking, the tougher and older the skins, the greater the chance you’ll want to peel them — not for safety’s sake, but for taste and texture. Thin-skinned squashes fare well when roasted to tender. Here’s a quick list:
| Leave It | Peel It |
| ---------- | ---------- |
| Acorn | Butternut |
| Delicata | Kabocha |
| Honeynut | Red Kuri |
| Sweet Dumpling | Spaghetti |
- Mango: Mango skins are edible … with a caveat. The skins can contain urushiol, the same chemical in poison ivy or poison oak, and should be avoided by people who are particularly sensitive to these plants (look up “mango itch”). Recipes containing mango skins are less common, but if you want to give it a try, look for smoothies or mango pickles.
- Banana: The two potential downsides of eating banana peels are exposure to pesticides and an unusual texture. But these can be minimized by using organic bananas (washed well) and proper cooking. You can, of course, put your heavy-duty blender to work and toss the peels in with your smoothie, or, if you’re feeling more adventurous, try this Banana Peel Stirfry or Banana Peel Chutney
Full Steam Ahead! (Or Roast, Or Sauté ...)
- Potatoes: No one is shocked to see a baked potato in its skin, or smashed red potatoes with the skins stirred right in. Peel that skin? You’ll lose up to 90 percent of a potato's iron content and half of its fiber. That said, forego green potato peels — they’re an indication that your potato is old and has started producing a mild natural poison that can leave your tummy feeling less than pleasant.
- Sweet Potatoes: Sweet potato skins contain nearly half the daily recommended amount of vitamin C you need, making a skin-on sweet potato a great choice to add to your diet during cold and flu season. It’s also got more fiber than a serving of oatmeal. Sweet Potato Fries, Baked Sweet Potatoes, and bar-style Tandoori Sweet Potato Skins are all good places to start. Already peeled your sweet potatoes? Check out this recipe to make crispy chips with the peels alone!
- Kiwi: Double up on fiber and capture extra Vitamin C by leaving the skin on your kiwis! Yes, it’s edible, and yes ... it’s hairy. If you don’t like the texture, you can scrape or rub off some of the fuzz to make it more appealing, or toss it in a smoothie to blend it all up.
- Eggplant: Similar to summer squash, the eggplant has a thin skin that softens very well under heat. Roast it, grill it, or, if you must, fry it — and enjoy. As with other vegetables, the smaller the eggplant variety, the more tender the skin will be. Whether making Eggplant Parmesan, Caponata, or these tasty Eggplant Pizzas, leave that skin on for extra fiber and antioxidant power.
- Carrots, Parsnips, and Radishes: Small, early-season carrots and parsnips don't need to be peeled before using, but the older the root vegetable, the more likely it is you'll want to peel it. Radishes rarely need to be peeled, with the exception of horseradish. If you do decide to peel any of these vegetables, try to peel as little off as possible; the bulk of the flavor in parsnips, for example, lies right underneath the skin.
Ready to get cooking? Try out one of the recipes from this article!