Aussie supermarkets have jumped on the “ugly” produce bandwagon in an effort to cut down on food waste, but it turns out there could be another reason to get on board the trend – so-called “imperfect” fruit and veg might just be healthier than prettier versions.
The Salt reports that produce with scars and scabs might actually be responding to the stressors of its environment and becoming more resilient – and more nutritious – as a result. It’s sort of the fruit and veg version of “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
The idea that these not-so-pretty fruit and veg could be better for us is supported by studies of organic produce, which also has to respond to stress more rigorously than conventionally grown crops. Like “ugly” fruit and veg, organic produce typically has higher antioxidant levels than conventionally grown crops. A 2014 survey of 343 studies of organic crops showed that the produce had 20-40 per cent higher antioxidant levels than conventionally farmed fruit and veg, for instance. The reason? It’s not that pesticides “rob” fruit of antioxidants – it’s because, when less pesticides are used, the produce is forced to use its own resources to fight off pests. In doing this, it produces antioxidants like flavonoids, phenolic acids, anthocyanins and carotenoids.
A 2010 study of apples, for instance, found that those with scabs had more phenolic compounds than normal apples. Another study showed that grape leaves infected with fungi, or exposed to stressful UV light, have higher levels of resveratrol, an antioxidant involved in cardiovascular health.
The findings are contrary to the idea that battered, imperfect fruit somehow isn’t as good for us as its prettier cousins. The bottom line? To reduce waste, and to boost your own health, look beyond the shiniest apple in the cart, and look for produce that’s lived a little.