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Is the skin of ginger healthy?

Ginger is a popular spice used in many cuisines around the world. The underground stem, or rhizome, of the ginger plant is commonly used as a flavoring agent. Ginger rhizome is often sold with the tan brown skin still intact. Some people peel off this skin before using ginger while others leave it on. But is eating the skin of ginger actually good for you? Let’s take a closer look at the potential health benefits and risks of consuming ginger skin.

Nutritional Content

Ginger skin contains a range of nutrients and plant compounds that may offer some health benefits. Below is a nutritional comparison of ginger skin versus the flesh according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) FoodData Central database.

Nutrient Ginger Skin (per 100g) Ginger Flesh (per 100g)
Calories 80 80
Protein 2.3g 1.82g
Fat 0.9g 0.75g
Carbohydrates 18.4g 17.77g
Fiber 2.9g 2g
Vitamin C 7.7mg 5mg
Magnesium 26mg 43mg
Phosphorus 34mg 34mg
Potassium 415mg 415mg

As you can see, ginger skin contains slightly more protein, fat, carbohydrates, fiber, and vitamin C than the flesh. The skin is particularly high in fiber, providing 11% of the recommended Daily Value per 100 grams. It also contains small amounts of vitamin E, folate, vitamin B6, iron, and magnesium.

Gingerol Content

Ginger gets its pungent, spicy-yet-sweet flavor primarily from gingerols, the main bioactive compound. Research suggests that gingerol concentration is higher in the skin than the flesh. One study found roughly twice the amount of 6-gingerol, the most abundant gingerol, in the skin compared to the flesh.

Higher gingerol content gives the skin stronger antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Studies show gingerols can help:

  • Reduce chronic inflammation
  • Suppress oxidative stress
  • Decrease nausea
  • Support healthy digestion
  • Provide pain relief

Leaving the skin on may help you reap more of ginger’s potential therapeutic benefits.

Pesticide Residues

The skin of ginger may also contain higher pesticide residues compared to the flesh. Ginger is on the EWG’s Dirty Dozen list of produce with the most pesticides. The skin is more exposed to pesticides during growth and harvesting.

Washing ginger thoroughly before use can help remove some external pesticide residues. However, pesticides can penetrate into plant tissues so washing may not completely eliminate them. Peeling ginger reduces pesticide content but also decreases nutrients and gingerol compounds.

Heavy Metal Accumulation

Ginger can absorb heavy metals like lead and cadmium from contaminated soil as it grows. These toxic heavy metals tend to accumulate more in the skin than the flesh.

One study found lead concentrations were 0.256 ppm in ginger skin samples compared to 0.003 ppm in the flesh. Another analysis detected double the amount of cadmium in the skin versus the flesh.

This potential for heavy metal buildup is a concern for regularly consuming ginger skin. Lead and cadmium toxicity can cause health problems if exposure is chronic.

Fiber Content

Ginger skin is a good source of dietary fiber. It contains 2.9 grams of fiber per 100 grams, while the flesh provides 2 grams. Getting more fiber in your diet offers many possible health benefits including:

  • Improved digestion and regularity
  • Increased satiety and weight control
  • Lower cholesterol and heart disease risk
  • Better blood sugar regulation

Adding some ginger skin to your diet may help boost your fiber intake. However, take care not to overdo it as too much skin at once can cause gastrointestinal distress.

Phytochemical Content

In addition to gingerols, ginger skin provides various other beneficial plant compounds such as:

  • Paradols – Give ginger its pungent flavor and provide antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities.
  • Shogaols – Formed when ginger is dried or cooked, shogaols exhibit anticancer and anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Zingerone – Created during cooking, zingerone has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and gastroprotective effects.

Leaving the skin on ginger provides higher amounts of these beneficial phytochemicals. However, heating or drying ginger also boosts their levels even in the flesh alone.

Taste and Texture

In terms of taste and texture, ginger skin has some disadvantages. The skin is tougher and more fibrous than the flesh. When eaten raw, some people find the skin to be too spicy or irritating to the mouth. Cooking ginger skin can make it softer and more palatable.

However, the skin can also detract from the flavor of ginger. The flesh is aromatically spicy-sweet while the skin is more harshly pungent. Peeling ginger provides a purer, cleaner ginger taste.

How to Eat Ginger Skin

Here are some tips for incorporating ginger skin into your diet:

  • Add thin slices of unpeeled ginger to stir fries, soups, and broths. The skin will soften during cooking.
  • Dehydrate sliced ginger with skin on to make ginger candy. Drying mellows the flavor.
  • Juice fresh ginger with skin to make ginger juice shots. The skin provides extra fiber and nutrients.
  • Blend unpeeled ginger into smoothies. The skin’s strong flavor will be masked by other ingredients.
  • Make pickled ginger by preserving fresh, unpeeled ginger in vinegar. This process softens the skin.

When consuming ginger skin, be sure to buy organic whenever possible to limit pesticide exposure. Also, peel older, woody ginger roots as the skin becomes less palatable.

Potential Risks

While ginger skin has some nutritional benefits, there are also a few potential downsides to consider:

  • Pesticides – Higher pesticide residue levels may be a concern, especially with conventional non-organic ginger.
  • Heavy metals – Ginger skin seems to accumulate higher amounts of toxic metals like lead and cadmium.
  • GI irritation – The tough, fibrous skin can be hard to digest and may cause nausea or upset stomach in some people.
  • Allergies – Ginger allergies are rare but possible. Reactions may be more likely from the skin.

People with chronic health conditions like diabetes, heart disease, or autoimmune disorders should also exercise caution with ginger skin due to its blood sugar and blood thinner effects.

Additionally, limit ginger skin consumption during pregnancy as ginger can have effects on hormones and menstruation.

The Bottom Line

Ginger skin is edible and contains beneficial nutrients, fiber, and phytochemicals. However, it also has downsides like potential pesticide residues and heavy metals. Most evidence suggests that moderate consumption of ginger skin is safe for most healthy people but should be limited or avoided by those with certain medical conditions.

Here are some key takeaways on ginger skin’s health effects:

  • Ginger skin has more fiber, vitamins, and phytochemicals than the flesh.
  • It contains approximately twice the concentration of the active component gingerol.
  • Skin may have higher pesticide residue and heavy metal levels.
  • The tough skin is difficult for some people to digest.
  • Allergies or interactions are possible, especially in high doses.

Including some ginger skin in cooked dishes, drinks, and remedies can boost nutritional value. However, balance this with the potential risks. Peeling ginger may also be better for health in some cases. Overall, ginger skin is generally safe to eat but should be done so in moderation.