There are certain vegetables we have a reflexive instinct to peel: carrots, parsnips, potatoes, beets.
Anything that grows in the ground, really. Especially when there’s visible dirt on the vegetables when you buy them.
But is peeling those veggies necessary? No. Is peeling them good for you and the planet? Not really.
I’ve pretty much stopped peeling root vegetables. I never understood the urge to peel cucumbers, either. Cucumbers can be a kind of watery food, and the skin adds some needed flavor, in my book.
Potatoes, I’m still coming around to, I’ll admit. My favorite types to eat with the peel are Yukon Gold and red potatoes. Those labeled as “new” are good bets, too, because they’re young with thin skins. Russets? Well, I tried leaving some in my mashed potatoes and was not a fan of the rough, tough texture. I’m more inclined to sweet potato skins, especially when thoroughly roasted so that the juices explode out and make the outside all caramelized and crisp.
So here are the reasons we should stop wasting our time peeling:
It’s extra work. Do you like doing more than you have to in the kitchen? I don’t.
A good wash is plenty sufficient to clean produce. Run your produce under cold running water while gently scrubbing it. The USDA says this is enough to remove dirt and bacteria, and drying the produce with a clean paper towel or cloth will help, too. For firm items such as carrots, turnips, parsnips or beets, feel free to use a brush (I can vouch for this Oxo model, pictured above, which is cheap, durable and dishwasher-safe) and scrub to your heart’s content. Don’t use soap or bleach to clean your food, because you’ll run the risk of ingesting those.
Peeling also doesn’t guarantee that you will eliminate pesticides, which can penetrate produce from the outside or find their way inside through the water supply. If you’re concerned about exposure to pesticides, you can certainly choose to buy organic produce, but even that needs to be washed and can still harbor natural pesticides or other types of pesticides that have drifted from conventional produce grown nearby. (Check out this very helpful produce guide from Consumer Reports for more information on pesticides.) At least one cleaning method seems to hold promise in breaking down pesticides: a soak in a water bath with baking soda.
Peeling contributes to food waste. We’ve all heard the scary numbers about how much of our food ends up in landfills. Chucking vegetable peels in the trash only makes it worse. (If you absolutely must peel, try throwing the scraps in vegetable broth or at least the compost bin.)
You lose part of what’s good about fresh produce. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults consume 25 to 30 grams of dietary fiber daily, but we typically only eat half that much. Fruits and vegetables are high in fiber, which helps you feel fuller and aids in digestion. There’s a lot of fiber in the exteriors of vegetables, so when you peel them away, you lose that benefit. Vitamins, minerals and antioxidants can also reside in or just below the skin.
Keeping the peel on can be an aesthetic thing, too. Surely I’m not the only one who finds that peeled carrots look weirdly sanitary? Embrace rustic chic! Don’t peel your carrots! Also, beets. If you hate having your fingers stained red, think about how the rest of your food feels. Especially when your beets are being cooked whole, leaving the peel on can keep your beets vibrant and their companions from looking like a crime scene. Wedges or slices of winter squash (acorn, delicata, etc.) roasted with the skin on hold together well and look colorful and elegant (as in the Honeyed Carrot Salad With Squash and Roasted Garlic Vinaigrette, pictured above). And, yes, if they’re cooked long enough, even tough skins such as butternut will become tender enough to eat.
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