Food waste is a hot topic at the moment, and deservedly so – the environmental damage done by producing 10 million tonnes of uneaten food each year in the UK is impressive, associated with around 20 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions. The monetary value of that food is over £17 billion a year, and 60% of the waste could have been avoided.

And those figures are probably just including the parts of vegetables that we regularly eat, but a lot of the parts that we discard onto the compost are also edible, but not commonly eaten. They are sometimes termed vegetable offal, likening them to the parts of animals that we could safely eat, but which we have lost our taste for as we have become more affluent.

Anyway, enough moralising 😃 This list is the fun face of food waste! It’s taking a look at some of those unwanted vegetable parts, and encouraging people to be a bit more adventurous in their food habits. But don’t forget that not all vegetable parts are edible, and some are downright poisonous. You wouldn’t want to go tucking into potato foliage or rhubarb leaves, for example.

How many of these have you tried? What have you tried that’s not on my list?

  1. Cauliflower

    Cauliflower leaves. Often cut off at source, to make your cauliflower (a flowerhead) presentable, these leaves are just like cabbage and can be used accordingly.
  2. Climbing squash

    Pumpkin leaves and tendrils are commonly eaten in some African countries. Yes, they are a bit prickly, so you’ll have to cook them until they’re nice and soft to make them palatable, but they’re supposed to be tasty with peanut sauce 😃 Pumpkins grow lots of leaves, so you won’t be impacting your squash development by trying a few.
  3. Radish seed pods

    Radish seed pods. Usually grown for their roots, radishes also have edible leaves (but, being hairy, they’re not the most appetising – try them cooked, e.g. radish top soup), but the seed pods are a revelation. All spice and crunch, young green seed pods are lovely in a stir fry. There’s even a variety ‘Rat’s Tail Radish’ specially bred for the purpose.
  4. First carrots

    Carrot tops. It’s unusual for carrots in the supermarket to have their feathery green tops on, but reasonably common in veg boxes, and of course on homegrown carrots. Those tops are edible, and the traditional use for them is carrot top pesto. I keep meaning to make it, but free carrot greens and free time/enthusiasm have yet to coincide!
  5. Douce provence peas

    Peashoots. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, then you’ll already know about growing your own peashoots – the young leaves and tendrils of pea plants. They taste a bit pea like, a delicate ‘green’ flavour, and can be lightly cooked or eaten raw. You can even pluck them off your pea plants outside if you’re tired of waiting for some pods to develop 😉
  6. Broad bean bed

    Broad (fava) bean flowers. At posh restaurant Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, they consider broad bean flowers to be better than the beans themselves. And any keen allotmenteer will tell you that you can eat broad bean tops as well.

  7. Courgette flower

    Courgette flowers. Those super chefs at Le Manoir also prefer courgette (zucchini) flowers to the fruits. I devoted a whole edition of Tendrils to recipes for eating them, a couple of weeks ago.
  8. Neeps!
    Turnip tops. If you grow turnips then their greens are an often overlooked delicacy. If you don’t grow turnips then you can deliberately grow turnip greens, AKA Rapa Senza Testa. You’ll have a nice leafy crop in about 4 weeks that’s mild enough to use in salads and has a lovely buttery flavour when cooked.
  9. Beetroot
    Beetroot leaves. Similarly, you can use your beetroot leaves like spinach or chard. Which they are, really, since all 3 plants are closely related. Baby leaves raw for salads, larger leaves cooked.
  10. Broccoli
    Broccoli stalks. Supermarket-style broccoli, with its big green flowerhead and thick stalks, is sold what’s known as calabrese to vegetable gardeners. Regardless of nomenclature, that stem is edible. You can peel off the thick outer skin to get to the tender goodness inside. So far I’ve only risked it in soup, but you can also slice it thin and use it like Kohl rabi. Or shred it like cabbage for coleslaw….
  11. Tempranillo
    Vine leaves. Last week’s Tendrils was entirely devoted to the wondrous edible uses of the humble grape vine.
  12. Sweet potato
    Sweet potato leaves. Not regular potatoes (Solanum tuberosum), but sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas). Like pumpkins and squash they have edible leaves and tendrils, which make a nice spinach substitute. And the greens are easier to grow in this country than the tubers, which can still be a little on the tricky side, due to our less-than-tropical summers.

This article was prompted, in part, by James Wong’s article in the Guardian on the topic. Mostly because, although James talks about the virtues of broad bean (Vicia faba) leaves, the article has been illustrated (by someone else) with French beans (Phaseolus vulgaris). I know they’re French beans (as opposed to runner beans, P. coccineus) because their seed leaves (cotyledons) are held high – French beans have epigeal germination, whereas Runner beans have hypogeal germination (their seed leaves stay underground). French bean leaves are edible, according to PFAF.