To peel or not to peel?

Can leaving the peel on fruit and vegetables be good for you?

Dr Joan Ransley

Many people struggle to eat enough fruit and vegetables. One reason is that washing, peeling, and chopping fresh fruit and vegetables takes time. But do all fruit and vegetables need to be peeled? The answer is some don’t. The peel on many fruits and vegetables contains valuable nutrients and it can be made to look and taste good too.

Why peel fruit and vegetables?

  • Fruit and vegetables are usually peeled to remove:
  • any soil that remains on the produce after harvesting
  • pesticides on the surface of the food
  • the tough skin of older vegetables
  • prickly skin that may irritate the mouth e.g. kiwi fruit and pineapple
  • skin that is inedible unless further preparation is undertaken e.g. lemons and oranges

Does peel contain any valuable nutrients?

One of the most nutritionally important components of peel from apples, pears, potatoes, squashes, and root vegetables is dietary fibre. Fibre is a type of carbohydrate that the body cannot break down and so it passes through our gut into our large intestine (or colon). It helps to keep our digestive system healthy. Fibre provides ‘food’ for ‘good’ gut bacteria, allowing them to grow in number and produce substances that are important for the body’s immune system and overall health.

In 2017, the World Health Organization reported that around 3.9 million deaths a year worldwide were attributable to people not eating enough fruit and veg.

There are nutritionally important amounts vitamin C, iron and zinc found in the peel of many root vegetables.

Unpeeled apples have been shown to contain 15% more vitamin C, 267% more vitamin K, 20% more calcium, 19% more potassium and 85% more fibre than their peeled equivalents.

What are the other benefits of not peeling?

  • Fruit and vegetable peel can reduce hunger and help you feel fuller longer due to the dietary fibre they contain.
  • The skin of some fruit and vegetables can look attractive if left on. Think of the colourful skin of roasted squash cut into half-moons, the crispy browned skin of baked potatoes and the colourful skin of baked apples.
  • It saves time on food preparation.

Which fruit and vegetables does not need to be peeled?

Here are some examples of vegetables and fruits that do not need their skin to be peeled or their leaves to be removed.

  • Young root vegetables, such as, parsnips, carrots and beetroot have tender skins making peeling unnecessary. They just need a quick rinse and scrub before cooking.
  • Squashes and pumpkins don’t need to be peeled if they are roasted. The skin becomes tender and delicious when cooked slowly in the oven.
  • The skin of raw apples and pears is nutritious and tender. It does not need to be peeled.
  • Cucumbers do not need to be peeled. The skin adds much needed flavour to this otherwise watery food.

Any tips on what to do with vegetable and fruit peel?

  • The skin of parsnips, potatoes and sweet potatoes can be tossed in olive oil, a little sea salt and baked in a hot oven until crisp. They are delicious as a snack or served with dips.
  • The outer green leaves of young cauliflowers do not need to be removed. They are delicious steamed or roasted in a little olive oil.
  • The leaves of celery are tasty and can be chopped up in salads or stirred into stews or soups.
  • Most citrus fruit does need to be peeled however the peel can be used in other recipes for example, as zest used in savoury and sweet dishes.Citrus peel is used in marmalade and crystalised for use in desserts and cakes.

There is lots of information online about what to do with fruit and vegetable peel which can be used in recipes or composted. Composting reduces food waste and can be used in your own garden to grow vegetables.

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