Should You Eat It? What to Do with All Your Kitchen Scraps
From tomato stems to pepper seeds, see which produce scraps are good (and safe!) to eat.
Edible Odds and Ends
Carrot top pesto might be a thing, but some scraps are better left on your cutting board. Here's a list of what to taste and what to toss. (You'll never look at strawberry leaves the same way again.)
Apple Cores and Seeds
Should you eat them? No! The seeds contain a chemical that turns into cyanide, which is toxic not only to humans, but also dogs and cats. That said, if you swallow a seed accidentally, don't panic. The seeds need to be chewed — and you have to eat at least 150 of them (about 15 core's worth) — to get a lethal dose.
Woody Asparagus Stems
Should you eat them? Yes! The stems become tender with cooking. After you cut or snap off the woody lower parts, save them to make an easy soup. Cut the ends into pieces and cook in broth until very tender, about 15 minutes, then puree in a blender. Pass the puree though a fine mesh sieve to remove the stringy fibers before serving.
Should you eat them? Yes! Even though they can sometimes be bitter and fibrous, banana peels are edible and nutritious — and the riper the banana, the tastier the peel. For a try, wash a banana well, cut off the woody end and stem and add it unpeeled to a smoothie; cut the peel into pieces and make a quick pickle; or caramelize it with sugar for a sweet and crunchy snack. (As with all peels, if you intend to eat them, look for organic options so you're sure they are free of pesticides.)
Broccoli Stems and Leaves
Should you eat them? Yes! They are delicious! Cut the stems into sticks or chunks and boil or roast until tender (peel them first if they're stringy), or grate the stems, salt and drain for 20 minutes to tenderize and use in a salad or slaw. Broccoli leaves are rich the same nutrients as the crowns — like vitamins C and K — but have a milder flavor. If the leaves are still young and tender, enjoy them raw in salads. Otherwise, just steam or sauté them as you would greens like collards or kale.
Cilantro Stems and Roots
Should you eat them? Yes! Both are safe and full of flavor. In fact, they are a common ingredient in many Thai recipes. Take extra care to wash them well, as they can be full of muddy grit. Once clean, mince and use along with the leaves.
Citrus Peels and Membranes
Should you eat them? Yes! Both the peel and spent flesh of juiced oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruit, and other citrus are safe to eat and full of nutrients like vitamin C, folate and potassium. If you find them hard to chew, you can steep them in water to make a refreshing drink. For a sweet treat, try a recipe for candied orange or grapefruit peels.
Should you eat them? Yes! They are edible, contain fiber and help preserve the vitamin C in the fruit. Go ahead and leave the skin on the next time you slice up a kiwi for munching or toss a few chunks into a smoothie (scrub and rinse it first).
Should you eat them? No! They have the same irritating compound found in poison ivy and poison oak and will cause skin and stomach irritation.
Sprouted Onion and Garlic
Should you eat them? Sometimes. New shoots from old onions are mild and sweet and can be used like scallions. On the other hand, the green shoots poking out of old garlic are bitter and harsh and should be cut out before you use the clove.
Note: If you’re lucky enough to get onions with their freshly harvested greens still attached, use those yummy tops! They have a grassy sweetness that makes them a tasty garnish.
Should you eat them? Yes! Though they might be a little bitter — or in the case of chilies, very spicy — they are harmless, as proven by the popularity of this shortcut for Mexican-style rice: Add 1 whole jalapeno (and if you’d like, a whole tomato) into a pot of rice before cooking.
Sprouted Eyes and Greenish Skin on a Potato
Should you eat them? No! Those pesky sprouted eyes not only taste bitter, they also can contain toxins (called glycoalkaloids) that may cause headaches and an upset stomach. Similarly, when a potato is exposed to too much light, parts of it will turn green and the same toxins will be activated, which is why we store potatoes in a dark place. But there's no need to toss the spud. Just cut out the sprouts and trim away any green parts before cooking.
Should you eat them? No! They are poisonous and contain oxalic acid, which can cause kidney stones. Stick to the stalks and you will be fine.
Strawberry Stems and Leaves
Should you eat them? Yes! They are full of strawberry flavor. Wash hulled tops well, then use them to infuse a pitcher of ice water for a few minutes, a bottle of vinegar for a few hours or your favorite booze for a couple of days. You can even dry strawberry leaves and steep them in hot water for tea. Use un-hulled strawberries in smoothies to get an extra dose of nutritious greens.
Swiss Chard and Kale Stems
Should you eat them? Yes! Both are too coarse and fibrous to chew raw, but are delicious cooked. For chard, use a vegetable peeler to remove the strings like you would from celery, then cut into batons and steam or boil until tender. Serve alone, or along with the leaves in your recipe. (Cook them separately as they can take longer than the leaves.) Kale stems also need to be blanched or braised until soft enough to chew. Then they can be roasted until crisp, added to stir fries, blended into pestos or tossed in salads.
Tomato Stems, Leaves and Stem Ends
Should you eat them? Yes! Tomatoes are a member of the nightshade family like eggplant, but they have extremely low levels of toxin. The stem end might have a core that's tough to chew, but it is safe. The same goes for the pungent leaves and stems. In fact, some cooks add them to sauces and soups for a super-fresh garden tomato flavor.
Should you eat them? Yes! Most people throw these away, but they are perfectly fine to consume and they don’t even need to be pickled. Raw pieces of rind have a sweet, refreshing flavor that is especially good blended into a smoothie with some sweetener, a few mint leaves, and a squeeze of lime.
Winter Squash Skins
Should you eat them? Sometimes. While none are poisonous, winter squashes such as butternut, pumpkin, and spaghetti squash have skins that are too tough to eat, even when the flesh is a fully cooked. Other varieties, like acorn, delicata, kabocha, and sweet dumpling, have thinner skins that should be enjoyed right along with their tender interiors.