Is It Dangerous To Eat Raw Zucchini?

Some vegetables aren't meant to be eaten raw. Uncooked potatoes can cause stomach problems. Raw lima beans contain cyanide. Kidney beans can make you sick. But other veggies are typically cooked — even though they don't need to be. If you're not sure which is which, check. Zucchini is one of those vegetables that you generally encounter grilled, roasted, sautéed, or stewed. It's not often consumed raw, but rest assured: Eating raw zucchini is typically safe. 

Experimenting with new ways to eat the vegetable is fun — and helps you get an extra dose of nutrients like potassium and vitamin A. However, zucchini also contains cucurbitacins, potentially dangerous compounds with a bitter taste. In large amounts, these compounds can cause cucurbitacin poisoning, also called toxic squash syndrome. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and hair loss, but the condition is extremely rare. Cucurbitacins are also not eliminated through cooking, so eating them raw does not increase the risk.

While some people love the taste of raw zucchini, it isn't for everyone. Uncooked, zucchini ranges from fairly flavorless to bitingly bitter, as you'll know if you've ever mistaken one for a cucumber. Cooked, the vegetable has a sweeter, subtler taste. Zucchini releases sugars when exposed to heat (which is why it can taste so good in sweeter dishes, like zucchini bread). But even if you aren't a fan of raw zucchini at first, keep an open mind — you might learn to love it.

How to eat raw zucchini

Zucchini is a remarkably versatile veggie, both cooked and raw. The firm texture means it holds up well when shaved or spiralized. Spiralized zucchini is a popular substitute for spaghetti. Shaved on a mandoline, it works well in salads — like this shaved summer squash salad that pairs fresh yellow zucchini with ricotta. And, while it's not a one-for-one substitute for cucumber, you can still use it in many of the same recipes. It's great if you want a little more crunch than cucumber would provide, so consider using it in lieu of cucumber on charcuterie boards.

Most people shouldn't have trouble digesting raw zucchini. However, like most vegetables, it's easier to digest when it's cooked. If you have a delicate stomach, consider lightly roasting or sautéing your zucchini. It'll be more digestible while still preserving most of the crunch. Nervous about cucurbitacins? If your zucchini came from the supermarket, you're probably fine. 

Commercial farmers have bred most of these troubling compounds out of their crops. You might want to test home-grown zucchinis before serving them raw, though. Cut a piece from the zucchini and taste it with your tongue. While a slight bitter taste is normal for uncooked zucchini, vegetables with a high level of cucurbitacins will taste extra bitter. In this case, it's best to throw the zucchini away — along with the rest of the crop.