Paring fruit and veg is a tedious task; do specialised tools make it any easier? Our panel compares nine peelers
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THE FRUIT and veg peeler was the first kitchen gadget, the forerunner of a tide of appliances that have taken over our homes - and lives. What is extraordinary is how little they have changed over the decades. At a school history society meeting a few years ago, a museum curator gave a talk about the 18th century; to grab attention early on, he demonstrated a hand-cranked device of the period that peeled, cored and sliced an apple in one fell swoop. Virtually the same appliance features in our test. The simple slotted knife with a wooden handle bound with orange twine is another example of the kind of peeler that has survived without refinement - often inexplicably. Our testers found that a peeler like this, if it had a blunt or wobbly blade, was quickly blocked by straggles of skin. A well-designed peeler can achieve good results, our panel agreed, but the best device for control and effectiveness is a good sharp knife.


Andrew Harding, manager of Harry Ramsden's Fish and Chip Restaurant, Guiseley, West York-shire; Geraldene Holt, food writer; amateur cooks Maria French and Raymond Walsh.


Panellists gave the peelers marks for how easy they were to use and clean, how effective they were, value for money, and aesthetic appeal.


pounds 3.42

This peeler rated highly as an attractive addition to any cutlery drawer and the blade's serrated edges can be used for all manner of unusual tasks. But on the whole the panel thought it was awkward to use. Raymond Walsh said: "Too deep a peel, so felt a bit clumsy, though it looks very nice. It makes good scrapings for fried potato skins." Geraldene Holt added: "This was the best-looking peeler, with a beautiful pearwood handle. It performed poorly on peeling, however, and was only any good as a scraper on cucumber and courgette if you wanted a decorative, ribbed effect."


pounds 2.49

Opinion was divided about this peeler, which combines a very robust plastic handle with a very wobbly blade. The blade is double-edged with a sharp, hooked point for removing potato eyes. "This was my favourite," said Geraldene Holt. "A comfortable handle, wide enough for older people to grip, and a swivelling blade that remained sharp. Worked well on all root vegetables and fresh ginger root, cucumbers, apples and pears." Raymond Walsh also liked it: "A very good peel - glided over the shape of the spud. Ergonomically sound." Andrew Harding and Maria French found the swivel feature more of a hindrance than a help, the blade too long, and said the pointed bit not only got in the way but did not "eye" very well.


pounds 1.49

The traditional image of a peeler, with painted wood handle and orange thread grip, this one performed indifferently and scored low marks for looks. "Curiously retro design," said Geraldene Holt who couldn't use it because she is left-handed and it is only suitable for a right-handed person. Maria French added: "It made really hard work of an already tedious task. The blade seemed blunt and became clogged with peel straight away." Andrew Harding had mixed feelings about it: "Just like my grandmother's! A traditional peeler; it's value for money and good with potatoes and apples." He pointed out, however, that the handle does not clean well and could harbour bacteria.


pounds 2.24

This peeler, with its dark rosewood handle, tied with the Ellegibi Spa on looks and was our overall winner. Its sturdy feel was considered a bonus for the modest price. "Good hand grip; short, manageable head; good on small potatoes and apples," said Andrew Harding. "This one 'eyes' well, and you don't have to adjust your grip. Great value for money." Raymond Walsh was similarly enthusiastic: "Lovely to look at and hold," he said. "Nice to have a bit of wood - it would go well with your Sabatier knives. It has a substantial feeling and is also much more effective than the over-designed plastic ones. Undoubtedly the winner." Geraldene Holt had reservations about its performance: "The best peeler for gouging out potato eyes," she said, "but it produces short, stubby peelings which means you have to turn each vegetable more."


pounds 1.99

An easy-to-use peeler with horizontal swivel blade and a comfortable plastic handle, this one disappointed as much as it delighted. "My favourite," said Andrew Harding. "Great hand grip, very quick to use and altogether feels easy to use. Very good value, and is good on long vegetables. The only drawback is that the 'eyeing' piece only works on shallow marks." Maria French added: "Easy on the hand, and comfortable to use, but the peel became clogged in the blade quite quickly, causing frequent stops to clean up and then start again."


pounds 13.22

A high-quality peeler made in Germany and unashamedly comical in appearance. Working a bit like a pair of tongs, its twin blades are designed to operate on both sides of a long vegetable at once, halving the peeling time. Most panellists liked it, though there was general consensus that it is useless for round fruit and vegetables. "It's an ingenious design," said Geraldene Holt, "which worked very well indeed on long, tapering carrots, cucumber and horseradish root. Useful if you have a passion for cucumber sandwiches." Andrew Harding agreed: "A very classy piece of kitchen equipment, and one to show off with to friends. It's very expensive, though, and probably only sold to the serious home cook. I'd buy one just for the fun of it." Raymond Walsh, however, hated this peeler: "Vulgar in design - it looks more like a gynaecological surgical tool than a kitchen implement, and it's horrible to use. Once again, a waste of time and money for such a simple task, but the illustrations in the instructions were amusing."


pounds 1.75

This cheap, lightweight Swedish potato peeler is a single piece of tubular stainless steel incorporating blade and gouging point. It looks great and was the easiest of all to clean, but most people found it ineffective and a pain to use. It is not suitable for left-handed people. "Very 'Ikea'," said Andrew Harding, "perfect for stainless steel kitchens. But not very practical. The split in the handle and the sharp end make it uncomfortable and it slips when wet." It did have one fan, Maria French, who said: "A smooth peel, easy on the hand and very quick to clean. A slick metallic number which makes peeling potatoes seem quite a stylish affair."



A bargain basement peeler and a minimalist version of the Culinare, this tool worked surprisingly well. "Not the classiest but definitely the best performer," said Maria French. "It glides over the potato, sharp yet safe. My winner, and no one can dispute its value for money." Geraldene Holt pointed out that, as with the Culinare, the blade was single-sided and was also too short. The lightweight design was not to everyone's liking. "It is a cheap, nasty peeler," said Andrew Harding. Raymond Walsh agreed: "It felt it would break at any second, but what can you expect for 99p?"


pounds 21.99

This contraption, heir to the 18th-century model, has all the makings of a medieval instrument of torture. A suction base anchors the machine to the work surface, and the apple is impaled on a three-pronged fork. A screwdriver is needed to adjust the paring knife to the correct angle for each apple. After more fine-tuning by means of a wing-nut, the wooden crank handle is turned, the apple revolves, and the peel glides off in an unbroken ribbon as the fruit is simultaneously sliced and cored. Our panel loved this device's looks, and marvelled at how such a simple task could be made so complicated. Andrew Harding was taken with it: "I'd buy it as a nice piece of kitchen equipment, more ornamental than practical. Very good if what you want is cored, sliced apples." Maria French added: "You'd have to be slicing barrelsful to make it a worthwhile investment. Complicated to set up, but very effective. Oodles of fun to use."


Ellegibi Spa: David Mellor, 4 Sloane Square, London SW1W 8EE (0171-730 4259); Prestige: major department stores. Others from selected stores and cookshops, or phone for local stockists: Apple Paring Machine (0114 2756700); Westmark Peel-Star (0181-864 6566); Victorinox (0116 2351111); Culinare and Homemasters (0181-868 4355); Sveico (0181-444 7946).