According to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation, about one-third of the foods produced worldwide for human consumption annually— approximately 1.3 billion tonnes — is lost or wasted. Furthermore, food waste is a large source of greenhouse gas emissions so much so that if it were a nation, it would the third largest emitter after China and the United States. Thus, it makes sense that if we want to combat climate change, we must tackle food waste.
One way to reduce food waste is to adopt the ‘nose to tail’ meat philosophy made popular by English chef Fergus Henderson where unpopular and neglected cuts of meat such as offal is used, so as not to waste any parts of an animal. This ethos has now made its way to fruit and vegetables. Known as ‘root to fruit’ or ‘root to stem’, this food waste movement encourages people, businesses and restaurants to use the parts of edible plants that are often discarded.
So to reduce your household food waste and make the most of all the produce you buy, here are 16 plant scraps that are commonly thrown away that you can actually eat:
1. Carrot tops
The leafy tops of a carrot look a little like a cross between dill and parsley but has a bitter carrot-slash-celery like flavour. It’s great for green smoothies, pesto, thrown in salads, stir-fry, sauteed with garlic and chilli, added to soups or used as a cocktail garnish. Follow this recipe for a tasty vegan carrot top pesto.
2. Broccoli stalks
Broccoli stalks are often discarded but they’re edible. Because it’s tough and takes longer to cook than broccoli florets, you’ll need to slice finely and throw in raw salads (for a bit of crunch), stir-fry, green smoothies, use in soup or coleslaw.
3. Fennel fronds
Fennel fronds are the spindly leaf tops that grow out of a fennel bulb and they are great for salads, pestos, pastas and dressings.
4. Potato skins
If a recipe calls for you to peel the potatoes, you don’t always have to. Remember that you can just leave them on. The meal may not turn out exactly as intended but at least you’ll be eating more minerals and nutrients. If you decide that you must peel, you can always turn the potato skins into chips. Just wash them thoroughly, lay them out on an oven tray, add some olive oil, rosemary and sprinkle with salt and bake in the oven until golden and crispy. You can also swap rosemary for paprika if you want your chips spicy not herby.
5. Other root vegetable skins
The same applies to all other root vegetable skins. Avoid peeling and if you must, make crisps out of them as you would potato skins.
6. Squash seeds
If you’re not saving your organic squash seeds for your garden, they make a great savoury snack. Just toast on a pan with a little olive oil and and sprinkle with salt.
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7. Pumpkin seeds (also known as pepitas)
The same applies to pumpkin seeds. These are a good source of B vitamins, magnesium, iron and protein. Check out this simple recipe for roasted pumpkin seeds.
8. Mandarin peel
Dried mandarin peels add zest to many dishes, whether it’s a stew, casserole or soup. You can also turn it into a dry spice rub or make a yummy candied satsuma mandarin peel dessert.
9. Radish greens
Radish leaves have the same peppery flavour as its root vegetable, but when cooked dissipates a little (and cooking helps with removing its fuzzy texture!) You can use in stews, pies, curries, saute with garlic and oil and eat as a side dish, or use as rocket in salads and sandwiches.
10. Turnip greens
Similar to radish, cook and prepare as you would radish greens.
11. Leek leaves
While many recipes ask you use white parts of the leek only, you can still use the green parts. Keep them for use in a homemade vegetable stock, use in soup, stir-fry or roast them.
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12. Zucchini stalks
While zucchini stems and stalks are a little prickly as they are covered in spiky, fine hairs, you can remove them with a vegetable peeler and chop into one-inch batons to use as a raw and plant-based alternative to penne pasta. Follow this recipe for Pesto Zucchini Pasta.
13. Beetroot stalks and leaves
Beetroot stalks and leaves are edible, raw or cooked, and make a great substitute for any of the following leafy greens: silverbeet, spinach, swiss chard or kale. Use in curries, soups and salads.
14. Brussel sprout tops
Brussel sprouts have leafy tops that are also tasty and edible. You can saute with onion and garlic or just with butter and it’ll make a delicious side dish.
15. Celeriac tops
Celeriac is a root vegetable and if you get it fresh, you’ll likely get the stalks and leaves with it too, all of which are edible. You can use these parts as you would celery.
16. Broad bean/fava bean pods
The casings of broad beans (also known as fava beans) have a leathery and fibrous texture. They are still edible but you’ll need to chop them up before adding to stews, soups and stir-fry because they’re chewy. Or you can ‘waste not, want not’ and try this recipe which encourages you to cook the entire bean, casing pods and all.
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Cover image by Nathan Dumlao.