From chickpea water and pickle juice to pineapple cores and whey, a lot of great food is unceremoniously dumped.
So let's say you have a can or home-cooked pot of chickpeas – what do you do when you're ready to use them? You drain them, right? Well ... STOP RIGHT THERE! (Pardon my volume.) That bean-drenched water is liquid gold that most of us just dump it right out. And it's just one of the many wonder ingredients that many people don't recognize as valid.
Reducing food waste is one of the greatest ways for people to help reverse climate change, and at the same time save money, feed more people, and help preserve threatened ecosystems. Most people likely don't want to throw out perfectly good food – but there are just a lot of things we don't realize are, in fact, perfectly good food. Consider the following.
1. Chickpea waterAlso known as aquafaba, the liquid drained from canned or home-cooked chickpeas, is kind of a miracle ingredient. It mimics eggs in baking, so much so that one can make vegan meringues with it! When you consider that meringues are made of just egg whites and sugar, you realize what a feat this is. (I have made many batches of these vegan meringues, and they are a marvel.) As America's Test Kitchen explains, "The starchy liquid is a great binder directly from the can, but what really makes it magical is that it whips and creates a foam. Aquafaba is therefore able to trap air, giving items structure at the same time it delivers a fluffy crumb and lift." Use it anywhere you would use egg whites, more info here.
2. Citrus zestYou juice the lemons and limes and then you throw out the rinds, don't you. As I wrote in Are you throwing out the best part of your citrus fruits?: "The juice and flesh may have the bright acid and edible fruit, which is of course is what they're famous for – but the zest's rich, fruity, and floral flavor is one of the best kitchen ingredients around." Zest has become one of my go-to flavors to perk up everything from yogurt and pasta to salad dressing, and it's basically free.
3. Pickle and/or caper juiceI love pickles and capers, like, a lot. I have always splashed a bit of caper juice along with the capers in whatever I am adding them to – pasta sauces, tapenade, et cetera. Likewise, I have been known to tip the pickle jar into bloody marys and faux tuna salad. But there is so much more! MNN has these great ideas: "Try spooning a few teaspoons of pickle juice into picnic favorites like potato salad, egg salad, coleslaw and pasta salad. And take the edge off of fresh chopped onions by steeping them in pickle juice for 15 minutes before adding them to bean salads. Stir some brine into homemade vinaigrette-style salad dressings and into saucy marinades for grilled chicken, fish or tofu. Drizzle a few tablespoons into borscht, gazpacho or other soups, and add extra zing to sauteed green beans, kale or beets by tossing some brine in right before serving."
4. Watermelon rinds and seedsWe just discovered that you can eat watermelon seeds, and they are delicious. Which got me thinking more about watermelon rinds, as well. Of course they can be pickled, but the rind's flesh, excluding just the green skin, is nutrient-rich and very versatile. Use it where you might use cucumbers or jicama; fruit salads, salsas, chutneys, savory salads, slaws, gazpacho, and even smoothies.
5. Broccoli stemsI think that most people know they can eat broccoli stems, but I don't think most people know how delicious they are. They key is that they should be peeled of their tough skin – which can easily be done with a paring knife or vegetable peeler. Then slice them up and cook along with the florets. They are firm yet tender and taste just like ... broccoli.
6. Yogurt wheyI have a confession: I have always thrown away the watery liquid that gathers on top of yogurt. And when I have strained regular yogurt to make Greek yogurt or labneh, I have tossed that liquid as well. I knew in the back of my head that this acid whey is edible and nutritious, but it wasn't until I tried a sample of bottled whey from The White Moustache that I really understood it all. They describe why as, "the magic elixir that results from our meticulous straining process. Every drop of yogurt whey is full of calcium, probiotics and vitamins." It has a tangy buttermilk flavor and can be used in baking and all kinds of places that require an acidic component; or, you can just drink it.
7. Herb stemsMost cooking instructions says to remove the leaves from herb stems. Maybe I am just uncouth, but I can't figure out why. I did it for years, but out of sheer laziness slowly stopped, and in most cases I cannot tell a difference. In fact, I think there is more flavor when I include the stems along with the leaves. I wouldn't do this with rosemary or other herbs with a woody stem, but for soft herbs like cilantro and basil, I am all for the stems. Using them tastes great, extends the yield, and eliminates waste.
8. Pineapple coreI am not sure anyone has found a way to eat the skin and spiky top of a pineapple, but the core? Totally edible. It may not have the exact same succulent texture of the rest of the fruit, but it is still delicious and better yet, it's where some of pineapple's most impressive nutrients are hiding. Pineapple is the source of bromelain, a proteolytic enzyme (one that breaks down protein), that is a great boon for digestion. (It's also used to tenderize meat, and is the reason you can not use fresh pineapple in Jell-O molds – it breaks down the protein and won't let it set.) And you know where you find bromelain in a pineapple? It's core. If you don't want to include it when you're eating the fruit, at least dice it up and use it in smoothies, marinades, and salsas.
Honestly, these are just a few of many ideas – but hopefully they may inspire you to take a second look at the parts you are throwing away. For more on reducing food waste, see related stories below.