Technique Thursday: How to Wash Vegetables

5 years ago

I found myself in a slightly awkward situation a few days ago. And let me preface this by saying that those with whom I was talking probably didn’t find the situation awkward at all. I was discussing with some folks about how to wash vegetables, when a good friend asked me, ‘Why do you soak your produce in vinegar-diluted water? Will it really remove the pesticide residues any better?’ I stuttered a half-confident "I heard it from a friend."

Now that wasn’t an answer that I was happy about! I like to think of myself as being a researcher and having a mind of my own. I like to think that I will confirm anything I hear out there with some trustworthy report. I want to believe I will truly understand the reasons why I do the things that I do. That is what builds confidence. People who read this blog don’t just want to hear what I do with food. They want to hear why I do something with my food.

It is likely that people reading wash their produce in many varying ways. Some may scrub. Others soak. Some many wipe food on their clothes (no joke), while others mist with a mister. Some people buy those veggie washes. But there are some things you need to know about washing fruits and veggies.

There are three things (and maybe more) that you need to be concerned about washing off your fruits and veggies when you get them home: dirt left over from growth, bacteria picked up either from the dirt or through transportation/ handling and pesticide residues. I don’t always buy organic produce. But even when I do, I always wash my fruits and veggies.

Veggie washes aren’t worth the money. As NPR reported in 2007, Cooks Illustrated did an analysis of various cleaning methods and they found veggie washes did little more than simply washing in plain water.

That same analysis showed that veggie scrub brushes did remove slightly more bacteria than simple washing.

But the best results were obtained from washing fruits and veggies with a solution of one part vinegar (they used white vinegar) and three parts distilled water. I thought the distilled water bit was interesting. Distilled water has had all the bacteria and living bits removed in the distilling process, thus you will be less likely to contaminate your fruits and veggie with something that was found in the water itself. But my first impression? I drink my tap water. So I run no greater risk of polluting my veggies with ickies than when I drink a glass of water. However, you might not feel so confident about your tap water…and I get that. I am not going to be buying distilled water just to wash my veggies.

The article said it was not necessary to soak fruits and vegetables in water before storing them. And again, I get that. But I have had GREAT results through soaking.

What I typically do when I get home from the market is to scrub my sink with soap and warm water (including the opening of the drain!) and rinse thoroughly. I then fill the sink up with cold water and add in some apple cider vinegar (previously I have been adding a few tablespoons but as a result of reading the article I will probably start adding a cup or so). I let my fruits and veggies soak for 30 minutes to an hour. I agitate them during the soaking so that all dirt and residue is removed. Then I remove them from the water, shake them off and let them drip dry on a clean dish towel. As I have mentioned before, I store most of my veggies in plastic bags in the fridge. I like to store lettuce in a big glass Tupperware. With spinach, I will often remove the stems before storage.

I soak fruits and veggies: all greens, carrots, green beans, leeks and scallions, apples, pears, potatoes, grapes, and stone fruits.

I rinse these fruits and veggies just prior to eating: all berries, anything bagged in plastic or otherwise washed before prepackaging.

I don't wash these fruits and veggies at all: bananas, sweet potatoes, avocados, onions, oranges (all items that I NEVER eat the outer layer).

**A note about pesticide residues: I found an interesting article on the WH Foods website that stated one can remove most pesticide residue through washing and soaking, but not everything. And one cannot remove the pesticides that have been incorporated in the plant itself. I eat a lot of organic food, but I am not maniacal about it. Almost all the local fruit in my farmer’s market is sprayed with something! And I still prefer local to trucked in. My mantra is limit your exposure through buying some organics and washing the rest and then letting go and accepting the limitations of this life!

Christa O'Brien is a wife and mother to two young boys. She also works full time in New York City. In her spare time she blogs about cooking and eating non-processed food in her blog, The Table of Promise.

Image Credit: wzefri on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) license.

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