Among the many battles that people wage with food is the timeless struggle to peel citrus fruits. Whether handling oranges, grapefruits, or lemons, breaking through their bright, clean outer shell to the juicy segments beneath can result in stinging eyes and unfortunate paring-knife duels. What’s worse? After you successfully peel back a citrus fruit’s rind, there’s still the pith blocking your way–the white, papery membrane that to some is an offense to the eyes and the tongue.
I’ve watched family and friends sit for upwards of 20 minutes trying to remove that white pith from a grapefruit or orange, worrying their fingers and the fruit itself to a state of decimated pulp. I, on the other hand, was given suspicious glances when I happily consumed the pith of my citrus, even paring off what was left attached to the rind I’d discarded to munch on slices of the flesh.
My strange habit started in college, when I’d observed one of my classmates I’ll refer to as “bohemian” gleefully sucking on orange peels throughout a extracurricular club meeting. I was aghast, and when others questioned her she simply scoffed, “All the good stuff’s in the flesh, duh.” Health conscious as I was even then, but opting for a slightly neater version of her trick to find more nutrients from an already nutrient-packed fruit, I started cutting out layers of the pith as well not for using as zest in baking or as a garnish but to enjoy as much as I did the fruit itself.
It’s no secret that the peels and skins of produce (think sweet potatoes, apples, tomatoes) contain a majority of the food’s nutritional value. But citrus pith is among the most concentrated sources of many beneficial nutrients–there are over 60 different flavinoids in the fruits in general–which makes it an ideal way to amp up your healthfulness (especially during the winter, when your immunity needs a boost) without adding anything to your diet. If you can’t handle the taste or texture of the pith on its own, try adding them to a smoothie or adding zest to sauces, dressings, and other recipes (some lemon zest can give a nice zing to quinoa pilaf or a tofu glaze).
Grapefruits, mandarin, and lemons (just the peel) contain naringenin, which can stimulate the liver to burn excess fat and reduce blood sugar, triglycerides, and cholesterol; it’s such a powerful antioxidant that it can reverse the DNA damage that causes cancer and radiation-induced damage to the cells of the body. Lemons, limes, grapefruit and oranges, contain hesperidin, which studies show can reduce bone loss and lipids post-menopause. The compound that gives citrus its smell, d-limonene, likewise fights cancer, high cholesterol, and indigestion from stomach acid.
Citrus’s claim to fame, vitamin C, is also more potent in the peel: compared to one wedge of lemon, 1 T. of peel as twice as much vitamin C and three times as much fiber. You’ll also find vitamins A, C, B6 and B5; calcium; riboflavin; thiamin; niacin; and folate.
An added bonus is that consuming citrus pith means reducing your food waste. A win-win for body and planet!
How will you incorporate citrus pith into your diet?
Related: The Benefits of Matcha Tea
Also by Jennifer: 3 Things You Need to Know About Grape Seed Oil
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Photos: Jennifer Kurdyla