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To peel or not to peel?

Instagram star and medical student Sasha Gill shares why eating the skin of certain plants might be good for you.

  • To peel or not to peel?
    Photo from Todd Quackenbush via Unsplash

Say I hand you a kiwi. It’s perfect, it’s slightly squidgy and wonderfully fuzzy. You know it’s a good kiwi, you can smell it. How would you eat it?
Why, you would slice if in half, scoop out the insides with a teaspoon. Et viola! Not you are full of that delicious kiwi pulp and vitamin C. Right?
Well, not entirely. Because you would have thrown away the skin of the kiwi. Which is full of even MORE vitamin C and fibre. So next time someone hands you a kiwi, take a bite out of it (a la an apple), sans cutlery, and be ready for many a bewildered look. And pass on the love for the kiwi skin, of course. Sharing is caring.
In fact, we often throw away parts of fruits and vegetables which are perfectly edible and equally (if not more!) nutritious. Why? Because it is difficult to eat, because it has a funny texture. Because you didn’t know you COULD eat it.
Here is a little list of some of the most common overlooked fruit-and-veggie parts

PINEAPPLE CORES: Yes, it is fibrous. Yes, it isn’t as sweet. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t packed with just as many nutrients. You can juice it, if you aren’t up to chewing your way through all that fibre. You can also add it to smoothies and soups without noticing the difference between using the pineapple flesh. Or you can be brave, eat it raw. You may even like it, I do!

BROCOLLI/CAULIFLOWER STALKS: These can be sliced up finely and roasted at 200C for 20 minutes. Flavour them with a little curry powder or your favourite seasoning. They are just as nutritious as the florets, so don’t waste them! Broccoli stems are just another source of plant-based calcium and iron. The small tender leaves can also be baked a la kale chips. If you aren’t willing to eat them by themselves, they make a great addition to your next batch of veggie stock. You can also puree them once cooked in a food processor and add it to vegan soups to make them creamier, or add them to your pasta sauces or pesto. They also make a really funky addition to hummus! They also juice very well, if vegetable juices are your thing.

KIWI SKIN: And now we return to the humble kiwi. You can, as suggested, eat it like an apple, skin and all. But if the fuzz bothers you, you can scrape it ever so lightly against something rough, like a towel, and the teeny ‘hairs’ will fall right off. You can also slice the kiwi, skin and all, and toss them into salads. You won’t feel the fuzzy skin at all. Smoothies are also a great option for those worried about all that fuzz.

WATERMELON RIND: You would have never imagined the tough, green outer skin of the watermelon to be edible, but it is! Next time you have an abundance of watermelon skin, pickle them. That’s some extra vitamin C right there. You can also add them to salads when sliced very finely. Dressed in a little bit of olive oil, they are delicious!

BANANA PEEL: I know, I know, hear me out on this one. The peels are full of potassium, and in Asia they are often cooked into dishes instead of tossed. You can whip up an Indian Banana Peel Thoran, or bake them in a cake like they do in Brazil. To make them easier to eat, chop off both the ends and soak them for several hours before baking them in a cake or cooking with them. They taste almost date-like! Not only are they edible, they are also incredibly useful. So even if you don’t want to have to stomach banana peel, there is no excuse for you to chuck it into the trash! They can be used for shoe polishing, composting, fertilising, teeth whitening, as a face mask or to sooth any irritated mosquito bites.

CITRUS PITH and peel: The pith of citrus fruit (the white stringy bits right beneath the skin) contain both pectin and bioflavonoids. The pith and peel also contain antioxidants and anti-cancer agents. Next time you slice an orange, don’t remove the white net-like pith. It is mildly bitter, but it is often so thin you barely taste it. If the bitterness really bothers you, you can slice them off and save them for your next smoothie. The peels can be added to rice when you boil it, to cakes, pastas, risottos, curries or salads.

POTATO SKINS: The skin of potatoes are full of (you guessed it!) fibre. And fibre is something that you may not want to miss out on. Next time you slice a potato for a stir fry or make some baked chips, leave the skin on. Remember to give it a good scrub before, though. It adds a certain almost smoky flavour to the dish. Leaving skins on also prevent nutrients, such as vitamin C, from leeching out of the potato when you cook it. If, however, you aren’t too keen on leaving the skin on, keep the peels and bake them at 200C (or 400F) with a little bit of your favourite spices and salt for about 15-20 minutes, stirring them halfway. This makes a delicious snack for when the munchies come around.

ASPARAGUS STALKS: The woody, fibrous ends of the asparagus stalks which you snap off before cooking shouldn’t be tossed into the trash! You can peel and add them to the pot the next time you make vegetable stock for an extra oomph of flavour.

SQUASH AND PUMPKIN SKIN AND SEEDS: Don’t cut off the skin or squash or pumpkin the next time you roast it. It has a wonderful nutty flavour, and saves you a lot of elbow grease. When you scrape out the insides of the squash, throw away the fibrous netting-like part but save the seeds. You can roast them for a delicious (and impressive) snack with you favourite spices, you can ever have them sweet!

MELON SEEDS: Like pumpkin seeds, they are high in protein. You can also dry them out, salt them and roast them for a savoury or sweet snack.

That being said, there are some parts of fruit and vegetables that you should never, ever try eating. The leaves of the rhubarb plant are poisonous. As are the seeds of apples (don’t eat too many!), leaves and root of the cassava plant, the seeds and leaves of many stone fruit, and tomato leaves as well. Raw kidney and butter beans contain a toxic compound, so they should never ever be eaten without boiling them.

Buying organic may not be possible for many people, so keep in mind that when eating the skin or peel of any produce that is not organically grown to give it a very good scrub, and a soak in a water bath with a splash of vinegar to get rid of as many of those nasty pesticides before eating them. Of course, if you ever do decide to spend a little extra in your daily grocery shop, it is worth it to buy organic for any fruit or vegetable on the dirty dozen list.

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About the Author

Sasha Gill grew up in a family that was very health-orientated, and that had a huge impact on her. Some of her loves include photography, fresh figs, yoga in the morning, cats any time of the day, robin-egg blue, scented candles, stationery of any kind, collecting herbal teas and all-white furniture. Sasha understands that everyone’s diet is personal to them. What works for someone may not necessarily work for someone else. However, she thinks that everyone has something to gain by enjoying a plant-based meal every now and then (or more!).

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