Do You Really Have to Peel Veggies?

You bought a beautiful bunch of carrots. Your recipe says to peel before you proceed. But is that step really necessary? What would happen if you chopped, dropped, and called it dinner? To peel or not to peel, that is the question. And even a renowned chef can’t give a straight answer. “It really depends,” says Deborah Madison, the vegetarian cooking authority and beloved cookbook author. “On what kind of recipe you’re making, or who you’re cooking for. It all comes down to the quality of the dish and what you want.”

But what does that mean exactly? There’s more than one opinion on this hot topic, and Fitbit experts are eager to discuss the pros and cons when it comes to peels. If you dutifully follow recipes or have ever worked in restaurants, like Fitbit food editor Becky Duffett, you’ve been trained to trim down vegetables until tender. If you’ve studied nutrition and live and eat by the research, like Fitbit nutritionist Tracy Morris, you may have read that you’re often throwing away the most beneficial part of the plant when you toss the peels.

And now, presenting both sides of this cook-versus-nutritionist debate. Do you really have to mess around with peeling veggies?

Reasons to Peel Vegetables

“I instinctively peel most veggies, whether I’m working at the restaurant or cooking at home. It’s how I was trained, both while editing cookbooks and in culinary school. Two reasons to pick up a peeler: texture and flavor. Skins can be leathery and earthy, at times tough and bitter. Whether you’re serving your veggies raw and crunchy, lightly cooked until tender-crisp, or simmered until soft, consider how a peel will resist your teeth, and what flavor you want to shine. Sinking your fork into fluffy mashed potato? Get those skins out of there! But even making chicken stock, our chef in culinary school instructed us to peel the carrots before throwing them in. As a home cook, you might not detect a difference. But it’s one of the many small steps that can make restaurant food seem better than home food. My personal opinion: You should be able to peel and cook sweet, tender, and outrageously delicious carrots, at home, any night of the week!” 

Becky Duffett, the Cook

Reasons to Leave Vegetables Alone

“There’s so much goodness in the peels of fruit and veggies—why throw that way? The outer layer of a plant is its protection against the outside world. For you, this means more fiber, which can help prevent constipation, manage blood sugar levels, or control blood cholesterol. It’s also more minerals and vitamins—an unpeeled potato has twice the fiber and potassium, along with more iron, magnesium, and folate, than a peeled spud. A brightly colored peel, like in the case of apples and pears, is also a sign that powerful antioxidants lie within. Throw it away, and essentially you’re tossing vitamins and minerals into the trash—those should be chomped, not chucked! If you’re concerned about texture, try different cooking methods. And if it’s the pesticides you’re worried about, give the produce a good scrub under running water before preparing, and know that the benefits of eating fruit and veggies far outweigh the concerns. The bottom line: Stop giving yourself extra work to do, put down the peeler, and start cashing in on the amazing health benefits.”

Tracy Morris, the Nutritionist

Your Veggies, Your Choice

At the end of the day, it’s your call as the cook. “The most important thing always is the quality of the vegetable or fruit you start with. How it’s grown, what size it is, how rough it looks, how you’re going to use it,” elaborates Madison. “If vegetables have been sprayed or treated with chemicals, I peel them. But if I get them from the farmers’ market or pick them from my garden, I might not.” The next time you’re in the middle of dinner prep and wondering if you have to peel, ask yourself: Are your vegetables organic? How thick are the peels? And what texture and flavor are you going for? Ultimately, there are a few vegetables you should peel, a whole lot of vegetables with which you never have to bother, and a number that could go either way. Here’s how to pare it down.

Always peel: Hard winter squashes with tough outer rinds, gnarly celery root and jicama, papery onion and garlic skins, and anything else that’s dirty or difficult to chew.

Never peel: Thin-skinned spring and summer vegetables, such as zucchini, summer squashes, and eggplant, and for the most part, tomatoes, peppers, and cucumber. Delicata squash is the exception to the winter squash rule, with a softer skin. And Jerusalem artichokes, which are notoriously time-consuming, are delicious without the finger workout.

Your choice: When it comes to potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, and other root vegetables, it’s really your call. If you like crispy sweet potato skins, by all means, leave their jackets on! Baby beets might be fine shaved directly onto a salad, but if you steam big beets, rub the skins off while they’re still warm, to reveal that beautiful color. Thick asparagus needs a peel from the waist down, but pencil-thin asparagus is fine after snapping off the ends.

Madison’s final word: “Fiber is important, but you also want to enjoy what you’re eating. Especially if you’re serving a new vegetable to a finicky eater, make it really approachable and delicious.” The important thing is to eat your veggies! So peels or no peels, make them appealing, and get them on the table.

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