Eat the Skin


Before eating many fruits and some vegetables, some people — bad, or perhaps ignorant people — do something which renders the produce less tasty, less colorful, less texturally interesting, and much less nutritious. The worst of these offenses involves one of my favorite fruits: the kiwi.

California grows the vast majority of domestic kiwi, and California’s kiwi growing season starts in October, which is mere weeks away. This is exciting, because the kiwi is a spectacular fruit: its color is otherworldly; it leans wonderfully to the tart side of the sweet/tart scale; and it has more vitamin C than an orange. But an awful lot of people don’t buy them, because they are seen, incorrectly, as being in the grand tradition of difficult-to-eat tropical fruits.

Just as it takes practice to properly carve a mango (the first method here is the correct one, since you should never peel a mango before cutting it), or to remove the spiky, dangerous skin of a pineapple (like this), the kiwi has the reputation of a fruit that requires…work. Typical ways to eat it include skinning it with a vegetable peeler and slicing into rounds or cutting it in half and scooping out the insides with a spoon. These options require not one but TWO utensils. Jesus Christ.

I am about to blow your minds, friends. (Unless you already know this, in which case, cool, let’s make a salad together sometime.) The proper way to eat a kiwi is exactly the way you would eat a peach.

Which is to say, wash it lightly, and then bite right into it. The kiwi is better with its skin than without it. The skin isn’t just edible, it’s one of my favorite parts of any fruit. It’s similar to a peach skin, in that it is sort of fuzzy and that the flesh directly under the skin is a bit more tart than the deep insides, but the kiwi’s skin is even thicker and thus provides even more delightful textural contrast to the green flesh within.

But what about the fuzz, you ask? Surely it renders the kiwi unpleasant to eat! To that I ask this: how many people reading this post have a beard or enjoy kissing people with beards or both? I WOULD WAGER THERE ARE A LOT OF YOU.

Give the kiwi a rinse under cold water then scratch it lightly with your fingernails, rub it with a dish towel, or scrape it with a spoon to remove the excess fuzz. This takes about five seconds; the fuzz will come shed itself easily. In fact, the only parts of the kiwi that aren’t edible are the ends, where the fruit attaches to the vine (kiwis grow on vines, like grapes).

Kiwis aren’t the only fruits you shouldn’t be peeling; unless the skin is classified as inedible, like mango, passionfruit, pineapple, lychee, avocado, or dragonfruit, you should eat it. The skin is often the healthiest part of the entire fruit, since it’s packed with fiber, vitamins, and minerals, even when the inside of the item has little of nutritional value (cough, potatoes). As a general rule, the darker the item, the better it is for you, which is how you can tell spinach is healthier than iceberg lettuce (which is 96% water but would be better if it was 100% water and just a glass of water because iceberg is seriously the worst edible leaf on the planet). And it even applies to individual items: hence, the rich outside of an apple is healthier than its pale white insides (color is always better than white. That’s a cool edgy racial joke). There are about a billion scientific studies examining the health benefits of peels; here’s a good survey, which focuses on the antioxidant, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory properties of fruit and vegetable skins. (Spoiler: They have a lot of them.) Also, peels are full of insoluble fiber, which sounds like a bad thing but is not because it helps you have good poops. Who doesn’t want good poop?

So: Never peel potatoes. Never peel sweet potatoes. Never peel eggplants or apples or cucumbers or, shockingly bananas. Mostly you can just leave the peel on and do whatever you planned on doing with the fruit or vegetable; roast, boil, puree, or eat raw. Banana peels are a weird one though, since they’re edible, and very healthy, but have sort of a shitty texture when raw. In India, they are sometimes deep-fried into chips, or turned into a sort of chutney with coconut. Apparently you can also bake them to remove moisture and then make tea; I haven’t tried this, but I will. Or you can be lazy and just toss them into a smoothie with the rest of the banana.

Lots of skins that are normally considered not edible secretly are, in some way. Citrus can be zested with a microplane or some other sharp tool; the outside of the citrus has some of the most oil and thus most flavor of the entire fruit. (It’s the pith, the white part just under the zest, that’s bitter and gross.) Zest is good both to build flavor from the beginning, or as a finisher, like parmesan cheese. If you can scrape the zest off in one piece, you can gnaw on it raw; it has a pretty intense citrus flavor, more intense than the pulp. But my favorite use is in vinaigrettes: Get some neutral oil (grapeseed is my favorite), some rice wine vinegar, honey, and a little chile paste, and then get out your microplane and grate in a shitload of orange zest and ginger, and whisk vigorously. Goes great on a spinach salad, if you must eat leaves. (Also, have you been throwing away the peels from your alliums? DON’T. Onion and garlic skins, the papery stuff, still has flavor in it; save it in a ziploc bag and toss into stocks.)

Watermelon rinds make for great pickles, with a texture not too far removed from cucumber (to which it is related). Remove the green outer layer, dice the white part into cubes, and par-boil for about five minutes, until it’s no longer tough, then strain and put in a glass container. Separately, bring a saucepan of apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, a couple sticks of cinnamon, some allspice berries, and maybe a star anise (what are the units of star anise, one star?) to a boil, then pour over the rinds. Let sit overnight. If you want, you can strain the liquid the next day, bring it back to a boil, and pour it over the rinds again, but I never do. Pickled watermelon rinds go especially well with barbecue or Mexican food.

Every parent that gives in and peels an apple for their child, every fast-food restaurant that removes potato peels before making fries, every fussy “Top Chef” judge who has a vendetta against the peels on peppers should be ashamed. You only have to look to the kiwi to see just how transformational the peel can be. Go ahead, buy a kiwi and just chomp right into it. It’ll totally change the way you see it: suddenly it’s portable, cheap, and delicious walk-around fruit, like an apple, but tropical. Eat kiwi. Eat skin.

Crop Chef is a new column about the correct ways to prepare and consume plant matter, by Dan Nosowitz, a freelance human who enjoys hot salads and lives in Brooklyn, naturally.

Photo by Live and Stereo