We sizzle the science on whether you have to cook zucchini every 👏🏽 single 👏🏽 time.
A lot of people have never tried raw zucchini because they don’t know whether it’s safe to eat. But you totally can!
The effects of eating raw zucchini
As a species, we cook food to make it more digestible. Unlike some of our animal pals (looking at you, cow with four stomachs), our digestive systems can’t cope with a lot of grassy vegetation.
But there are lots of different vegetables that you can munch raw, and zucchini is one of them. In fact, eating some vegetables raw can help preserve their essential minerals and nutrients (some of which object to being boiled, as you would, too).
Take this study from 2018, which looked at how different cooking methods affect the nutritional content of various vegetables. It found that boiling vegetables could remove some water-soluble vitamins like vitamin C.
A diet that includes both raw *and* cooked vegetables is the way to go. That means you’ll be getting the best of both worlds.
Unlike other types of squash, zucchinis have soft skin that’s easy to digest. The skin, flowers, and seeds are all edible.
Eating the skin also contributes to your daily intake of fiber. One large zucchini (including skin) has over 3 grams of the stuff.
Do you have to peel zucchini?
You don’t have to peel the skin off zucchini, but some recipes might call for you to remove it. It just depends on what you’re using it for.
Carotenoids are a good reason to eat zucchini with the skin on. These molecules (responsible for the color of various fruits and vegetables) might have links to a reduced risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and eye disease.
Although mostly used as a vegetable, these green summer squashes are technically a fruit. (Yes, you were today years old when you learned…) Like most fruits, they’re packed full of vitamins and nutrients that are straight-up good for you.
Here’s how chowing down on zucchini could help boost your health.
Vitamins, nutrients, and antioxidants
There’s also a good dose of the super antioxidant vitamin C. It plays an important role in creating collagen, an essential component of connective tissue. This plays a super important role in wound healing.
Not only that, but vitamin C might help prevent or delay the development of certain cancers and diseases, thanks to its potent antioxidant properties.
With 3 grams in one large zucchini, there’s plenty of dietary fiber to help you reach your recommended daily amount.
Zucchini includes both soluble and insoluble fiber, both of which help maintain regular bowel movements. (And who doesn’t want to poop good?)
Soluble fiber also helps to feed your gut microbiome, and you really want to keep those guys happy down there. Treat ’em right, and the bacteria in your gut could play a vital role in regulating your metabolism, giving your immune system a kick in the pants, and protecting you against disease.
So, yeah, fiber. Do it.
Blood sugar levels
We all know that eating more fruit and veg is generally a good thing. But it’s hard to overstate the positive impact these guys have on your health, and that includes blood sugar.
A 2016 meta-analysis showed that a higher intake of fruit, berries, and fibrous vegetables is associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes.
Zucchini is low in carbs and high in fiber — a winning combo for keeping those blood sugar levels steady.
Promotes weight loss
Another meta-analysis from 2016 found that eating lower-energy-density foods had links to reduced body weight.
Zucchini is low in calories but high in water and fiber. It can help you feel fuller for longer while helping to manage your caloric intake.
Good eye health
The most common type of vitamin A that pops up in food and dietary supplements is beta-carotene. It’s an essential nutrient that supports healthy vision, the immune system, and reproduction.
Zucchini also provides the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, which are carotenoids that occur in the retina and wider visual system. There is evidence from studies to suggest that eating lots of food containing these compounds can lower the risk of age-related macular degeneration.
Eating raw zucchini is generally very safe, but there are a few potential wibbles to watch out for.
Occasionally you’ll find a zucchini that’s very bitter. This could indicate high levels of cucurbitacins — compounds in some vegetables which can be toxic.
But it’s highly unlikely that the zucchini you get from your grocery store will be toxic. Commercial varieties are bred specifically to avoid this.
Although extremely rare, some people are also allergic to zucchini and other types of squash. It’s not fully understood why some people develop this allergy, but it can happen.
If you’ve experienced allergic reactions to other squashes, it might be best to avoid zucchini. You can speak with your doctor to arrange a test that can show you whether it’s safe for you to eat or not.
How to tell if zucchini has gone bad
A fresh zucchini bought at the grocery store can be kept in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. It sounds like a long time, but it’s true!
Much like any other fruit or vegetable, there are a few telltale signs to look out for that will show you a zucchini is past its prime:
- Can you see any mold?
- Does it smell really bad?
- Has it gone really soft?
- Is it wet or leaking?
And remember, watch out for those bitter zucchinis. They could spell trouble.
Zucchini is extremely versatile and can be cooked in a bunch of different ways. Here’s how:
- Preheat an oven to 390°F (198°C) and line a baking tray with parchment paper.
- Slice zucchini into quarter-inch rounds or half moons and drizzle liberally with olive oil.
- Place them on the baking tray, making sure not to overcrowd them, and season well with salt and pepper.
- Bake for 20 minutes, turning half way through, until golden brown and delicious!
- Slice zucchini in quarter-inch rounds or half moons. If you’re using zucchini as the base of a sauce for pasta, you can also finely grate it.
- Heat a large nonstick pan on medium-high heat and add 2–3 tablespoons of olive oil (rapeseed also works here).
- Once the oil is hot, add the zucchini, leaving enough space so that each piece will be cooked evenly.
- Sautee for 3–4 minutes on each side until crisp and golden brown around the edges.
Grill (particularly awesome if done on the BBQ)
- Slice zucchini into quarter- to half-inch rounds, or spears. (You don’t want to slice them too thinly, as they’re a little more fragile when cooked on the grill.)
- Brush with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. You can also add Cajun spice or harissa if you like it hot.
- Place on a hot grill or BBQ and cook for 3–4 minutes on each side until slightly charred and smoky.
- Use in warm salads or at the family BBQ. They’re even great as a topping on burgers!
Now you know how to handle them, it’s time to get to work! Here are some of our favorite zucchini recipes to help you up your dinner-party game:
- Herb garden zucchini pizza
- Crispy zucchini strips
- Zucchini-lentil fritters with lemony yogurt
- Healthy banana and zucchini bread
- Zucchini pizza bites
- Chocolate zucchini bread with matcha frosting
- Zucchini lasagna
- Raw and charred zucchini salad
- Zucchini-chickpea burgers with tahini ranch sauce
- Asparagus and zucchini frittata
Raw or cooked, zucchini is an underrated fruit (really) that packs a serious nutritional punch. It’s safe to eat raw and could even help preserve nutrients that may otherwise have gotten lost in the cooking process.
Just be wary of bitter zucchini which could be a giveaway about the presence of toxins, and steer clear if you have a known allergy to any squashes. Otherwise, the world is your zucchini!