Our editors have independently chosen the products listed on this page. If you purchase something mentioned in this article, we may earn a small commission.
October 30, 2021 — 11:23 AM
Garlic and onions are likely staples in your cooking routine, but as far the skins go? I’d be willing to bet they get scraped right into the trash. I was guilty of this, too, until I realized two things: Nearly 40% of food in America goes to waste, and these skins actually have a lot to offer.
From enhancing the flavor of your dishes to supporting sleep, here are all of the ways you can use garlic and onion skins to your advantage.
Are garlic peels and onion skins safe to eat?
Functional Nutrition Coaching
Take your functional nutrition expertise to the next level.
Let’s get this part out of the way first: While there’s no harm in doing so, the outer skins that come off garlic and onions aren’t the most appetizing as-is. Aside from the fact that they’re papery and not very palatable, they’re difficult to chew and can present a choking hazard since they’re full of cellulose, a fiber that doesn’t break down.
But the skin layers that are closest to the flesh of the vegetable? Well, that’s a different story.
Here are a couple ways to get the most out of your peels, and keep them out of the trash:
Sophia Roe, chef and host of the TV show Counter Space shared a mouthwatering recipe for garlic chips on her Instagram page that likely had her hundreds of thousands of followers stocking up on skins. She recommends tossing garlic skins in some olive oil, sprinkling them with a little salt, and baking them for 10 minutes at 425°F until they turn into crispy, crunchy “chips.”
From here, you can mix them into salads or sprinkle them wherever you need a flavor (and a crunch) boost. You can do the same thing with skins from shallots, too!
Roast your garlic with the skin on.
Any garlic lover will tell you that roasted garlic is an absolute drool-worthy delicacy. But did you know leaving in the garlic in the skin while it roasts can take things up a notch? The skin keeps the garlic soft, contributes to the flavor, and ensures you’re getting the beneficial nutrients found in the skin.
Triple board-certified dermatologist Mamina Turegano, M.D. and her 72-year-old mom swear by onion peel tea for supple skin and a youthful complexion. The quercetin in the onion peels helps fight off inflammation and free radicals, two things that can contribute to aging, fine lines, and the development of crepey skin texture. Quercetin may also protect your skin from sun damage.
While any onion skins will do, red onions also contain high levels of anthocyanins, beneficial pigments that are also anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial, and thus can contribute to glowy skin.
Aside from the fact that the act of sipping on tea is relaxing in itself, the tryptophan in onion skin tea may contribute to better quality sleep. If you combine the onion skins with another relaxing herbal tea, like chamomile, you may be able to really optimize the sleep-inducing benefits.
Now onto unique uses for onion peels:
The easiest way to reap the benefits of onion skins is through tea. Look, I know how it sounds, but stick with me for a minute. Onion skins are rich in various vitamins like E and C, plus an amino acid called tryptophan and the antioxidant quercetin. In fact, onion skins contain even higher levels of quercetin than the flesh and core, so don’t knock it ’till you try it!
Add onion skins to your green tea.
If you can’t stomach the thought of drinking plain onion tea, you have another option: Add onion skins to your green tea as it steeps. According to one study, doing so can help boost the bioavailability of the epicatechins—the main beneficial compounds, like EGCG, in green tea. EGCG can combat inflammation, boost weight loss, and help fight off various chronic diseases, like heart disease and diabetes.
Another surprising use? As a natural dye for fabric. Pigment-rich skins, like those in red onions, have been used to dye textiles long before artificial coloring came about. If you want to try it yourself, Anjolie Noelle, a botanical and food waste dyer, says the best way to do it is to add the onion skins to a pot of water and let them simmer for an hour before adding the fabric. Once the fabric is in the dye, let it sit for another hour.
If dyeing your own fabric is outside of your DIY-willingness, you can use the colored water to dye Easter eggs instead.
How to use garlic & onion peels
While each type of skin has its own uses, you can also combine them for compounded benefits.
Add them to soups for extra flavor.
Garlic and onions are the base of most soups, but why not throw the skins in, too? This not only boosts the flavor, but it also adds the skin’s nutrients into your meal. Just make sure to strain the skin out before eating!
If soup isn’t on the menu any time soon, you can use garlic and onion skins to make a veggie stock to use later. Prepare your stock as you normally would, throw in the peels, and simmer for at least an hour (the longer, the better). When it’s done simmering, put it in an airtight container and store it in the freezer until you’re ready to use it. (More on how to freeze soup here.)
Turn them into a flavor-enhancing powder.
You can also use garlic peels and onion skins to flavor other savory dishes, like freshly-baked bread or rice. Simply dehydrate the skins, then turn them into a powder by finely crushing them with a knife or pulsing them in a food processor. From there, you can add them to dishes just like you would garlic and onion powder.
Steep them for relief from itchy skin.
Since both garlic and onion are antifungal and anti-inflammatory, applying garlic- and onion-infused tea topically may help relieve itchy skin. Just steep them in warm water like you would with a tea, but instead of drinking it, dip a cotton round in the mixture and apply it directly to the problem area.
Instead of tossing garlic peels and onion skins into the trash, make the most of them. You can use them to enhance the flavors of soups and stocks, dye clothes, and keep your skin supple and glowy.