We've noticed something lately, even though it's not new: Some people don't peel their carrots and cucumbers. They leave the skins of their beets and eggplants intact.
At first glance, it seems like a stylistic choice, a rustic affectation, a noble nod to that longstanding farm-to-table movement — "Look! This came from a farm! You can taste the local dirt!"
Who are these people, and why aren't they grabbing the peeler to strip off those nasty bits? A chef and food-waste activist, a couple cookbook authors, a recipe developer, and some food writers tell us their motivations behind their no-peeling stance.
When food writers cook at home, they choose the easy way because, well, it's easy, and that outer layer has extra fiber and nutrients they could use. "I don't peel most vegetables because one, I am lazy and feel like a good scrubbing is fine; and two, because I want the most out of my produce. Heck, I don't even peel beets save for the really gnarly tops," says Linnea G. Covington, a food writer in Denver, Colorado. She's worked in the restaurant industry since she was 16, in Denver, California, and New York City.
A chef for 12 years and a food-waste activist in San Francisco, Alison Mountford cites the same reasons, plus more. "[I'm] looking to reduce my food waste, and I like the color variation too — cucumbers, yams, russets." Mountford loves the two-tone look in the final dish. Because we all know looks matter.
Soon after Thanksgiving, Mountford is launching Ends & Stems, an in-home, food-waste-resource site with facts and tips for reducing and reusing your food waste to save money, the environment, and yourself from the boredom of the same old recipes. One cited fact: 25 percent of the food brought home ends up in the trash. Don’t let that happen. Mountford points out ways to better use the kitchen tools you already have, such as the freezer, to reach these goals. (Basil ice cubes anyone?)
San Francisco cookbook author and recipe developer Amy Sherman always peeled her vegetables when she first started cooking, but now she doesn't unless the skins are really tough. She wants the extra vitamins and minerals often found in the skin, in addition to fiber. Yet Sherman still peels potatoes when she's serving them mashed. She also peels the bottoms of asparagus stalks and artichokes because of the tough texture. But not much else.
"I want to get more nutritional value, and I’m buying mostly organic vegetables so I’m less afraid of any chemical residue," Sherman says. "If I’m blending in the Vitamix, I can’t see the point of peeling either, since it will pulverize just about anything."
Some peels, especially on apples, are rich in pectin, which can lower your cholesterol and blood sugar, according to Berkley Wellness at the University of California. Potato skins have more fiber, B vitamins, iron, and potassium than the flesh. Just avoid greenish skins.
As far as washing your unpeeled produce, no need for soap. Rinse it with water, which will remove most of the dirt, bacteria, and some pesticide residues on the surface. You can scrub firmer vegetables with a brush. And that shiny wax on cucumbers, tomatoes, and apples is safe to eat, according to Berkley Wellness.
When the vegetable is really good, Karen Solomon doesn't peel. Solomon is the author of cookbooks such as Asian Pickles and Can It, Bottle It, Smoke It. "I peel most carrots, but the ones from Tomatero Farm I don't peel because they are so fresh and sweet that there's no point. No bitterness at all in the skin," Solomon says.
Boiled down, weigh the arguments against peeling some of your vegetables:
- It saves time.
- You get extra insoluble fiber, which keeps you regular. (yay!)
- Vegetables can look prettier with all their clothes on.
- Peels provide texture and flavor — that you want.
Regardless of whether you sit in the peel or no-peel camp, make sure to scrub those vegetables extra well. No one wants to eat dirt, even if it is local and organic.
Amy Sowder is a NYC-based food and fitness writer as well as the assistant editor for Chowhound. She loves cheesy things, especially toasties and puns. She's trying to like mushrooms. Her running habit is the excuse for her never-ending ice cream pursuits. Follow her on Instagram, Twitter, and her blog, What Do I Eat Now. Learn more at AmySowder.com.