Zucchini, also known as courgette, is an incredibly versatile fruit. It can be cooked in a variety of ways and makes a delicious addition to many dishes.
There are also several recipes calling for the use of raw zucchini – whether in a salad, wrap or dip. In fact, it can even be made into noodles, known as “zoodles”. However, is it safe to eat zucchini raw?
For the most part, yes, zucchini is perfectly safe when eaten raw, as long as it is washed first. It provides several benefits, as it is highly packed with nutrients and vitamins that have a positive impact on health.
For example, it is high in dietary fiber, which could reduce heart disease, benefit gut microbiota and aid in weight loss (1,2,3). It’s also good for your eyesight as it contains carotenoids such as beta-carotene as well as the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin which help to promote healthy vision (4).
However, there are a few risks when it comes to eating raw zucchini. Individuals with ragweed allergies may have an allergic reaction when eating raw zucchini, although this effect is not observed when cooking the fruit before consumption (5).
Bloating may also occur as compounds such as cellulose in zucchini is fermented by your gut microbiota and gas is released as a byproduct (2).
Additionally, some zucchinis may contain a higher percentage of cucurbitacins, a bitter-tasting compound that can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and hair loss when ingested in large quantities (6).
Cucurbitacins are found mainly in the leaves, stems, and roots of plants and are unlikely to be present in the fruit flesh itself (7).
This is why raw zucchini poses a greater risk than its cooked counterpart – when zucchini is cooked, the stem and blossom ends are typically sliced off and the skin is removed, thus reducing the chance of ingesting cucurbitacins.
While the amount of cucurbitacins in one or two zucchinis is likely not enough to cause poisoning and there are precautions you can take to reduce the amount of this toxic compound, it’s better to be safe than sorry!
If you bite into a raw zucchini and notice a bitter taste, it’s best to just throw it away. Luckily, it’s quite rare that store-bought zucchinis have a high amount of cucurbitacins.
Lastly, raw zucchini carries the risk of being contaminated with bacteria, as does any other raw fruit or vegetable. Therefore, it is very important to wash your zucchini thoroughly before eating it.
You should wash it under cold running tap water and gently rub the skin as you do so (8). This will help you eliminate any bacteria, parasite and residue pesticides so that your zucchini is safe for consumption.
Make sure to keep any leftover cut zucchini in the fridge to reduce your risk of food poisoning.
So, to summarize, you can definitely eat zucchini raw!
However, you will have to take certain precautions such as ensuring you do not have a ragweed allergy, checking for cucurbitacins via the presence of a bitter taste, and washing it thoroughly to remove any bacteria.
1. Mirmiran, P., Bahadoran, Z., Khalili Moghadam, S., Zadeh Vakili, A., & Azizi, F. (2016). A Prospective Study of Different Types of Dietary Fiber and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease: Tehran Lipid and Glucose Study. Nutrients, 8(11), 686. doi:10.3390/nu8110686
2. Holscher H. D. (2017). Dietary fiber and prebiotics and the gastrointestinal microbiota. Gut microbes, 8(2), 172–184. doi:10.1080/19490976.2017.1290756
3. Slavin J. L. (2005). Dietary fiber and body weight. Nutrition, 21(3), 411-418. doi:10.1016/j.nut.2004.08.018
4. Demmig-Adams, B., & Adams, R. B. (2013). Eye nutrition in context: mechanisms, implementation, and future directions. Nutrients, 5(7), 2483–2501. doi:10.3390/nu5072483
5. Muluk N. B., Cingi C. (2018). Oral allergy syndrome. Am J Rhinol Allergy, 32(1), 27-30. doi:10.2500/ajra.2018.32.4489
6. Le Roux G., Leborgne I., Labadie M., Garnier R., Sinno-Teller S., Bloch J., et al. (2018). Poisoning by non-edible squash: retrospective series of 353 patients from French Poison Control Centers. Clin Toxicol (Phila), 56(8), 790-794. doi: 10.1080/15563650.2018.1424891
7. Kaushik, U., Aeri, V., & Mir, S. R. (2015). Cucurbitacins – An insight into medicinal leads from nature. Pharmacognosy reviews, 9(17), 12–18. doi:10.4103/0973-7847.156314
8. Kilonzo-Nthenge A., Chen F.C., Godwin S.L. (2006). Efficacy of home washing methods in controlling surface microbial contamination on fresh produce. J Food Prot, 69(2), 330-334. doi: 10.4315/0362-028x-69.2.330