Cucumbers (Cucumis sativus) are cylindrical in shape and commonly range in length from about 6 to 9 inches/15 to 20 cm, although they can be smaller or much larger. Their skin ranges in color from green to white and may be either smooth or ridged, depending upon the variety. Inside a cucumber is a very pale green ﬂesh that is dense yet aqueous and crunchy at the same time, as well as numerous edible ﬂeshy seeds. The seedless, thin-skinned, and longer varieties are most often grown in greenhouses. More than 70 percent of the U.S. cucumber crop is used to make pickles. Cucumbers that are cultivated to make pickles are usually of the smaller varieties. For example, the gherkin is one popular variety of cucumbers cultivated for this purpose.
The cucumber is a tropical plant that originated in Southeast Asia more than 10,000 years ago. Early explorers and travelers from India and other parts of Asia brought it back with them, and its popularity spread to the ancient civilizations of Egypt, Greece, and Rome. During ancient times, it was used not only as a food, but also for its beneﬁcial skin-healing properties.
During the seventeenth century, greenhouse cultivation of cucumbers was developed. Cucumbers were introduced to the United States by the early colonists. The pickling process of cucumbers is thought to have originated in Spain, as pickles were said to be valued by Roman emperors.
Cucumber Nutritional Highlights
Fresh cucumbers are composed primarily of water but still pack a lot of nutritional value. The ﬂesh of cucumbers is a very good source of vitamin C and vitamin A also folic acid. The hard skin is rich in ﬁber and contains a variety of important minerals, including silica, potassium, magnesium, and molybdenum. A 100 gram serving of cucumber provides only 12 calories as carbohydrate.
Cucumber Health Benefits
Cucumber is an excellent source of silica, a trace mineral that contributes to the strength of our connective tissue. Connective tissue is what holds our body together. It includes the intra-cellular cement, muscles, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, and bone. Without silica, connective tissue would not be properly constructed, leaving it impaired. Cucumber is often recommended as a source of silica.
Cucumbers are also used topically for various types of skin problems, including swelling under the eyes and sunburn. Two compounds in cucumbers, ascorbic acid and caffeic acid, prevent water retention, which may explain why cucumbers applied topically are often helpful for swollen eyes, burns, and dermatitis.
How to Select and Store Cucumber
Cucumbers should be fresh-looking, well-shaped, and medium to dark green in color. Avoid cucumbers that are yellow or puffy, have sunken, water—soaked areas, or are wrinkled at their tips. Thinner cucumbers will generally have fewer seeds than those that are thicker.
Store cucumbers in the refrigerator, where they will keep for several days. If you do not use an entire cucumber during one meal, wrap the remainder tightly in plastic or place it in a sealed container to retain its freshness, but even then it should be used within one to two days. Cucumbers should not be left out at room temperature for too long, as this will cause them to wilt and become limp.
Tips for Preparing Cucumber
Wash cucumbers under cold running water and gently scrub them with a vegetable brush. If waxed or not organically grown, the cucumber should also be peeled. Cucumbers can be sliced, diced, or cut into sticks. While the seeds are edible and nutritious, some people prefer not to eat them. To remove them easily, cut the cucumber lengthwise and use the tip of a spoon to gently scoop them out.
Quick Serving Ideas for Cucumber
• Mix 1 cup diced cucumbers with 1 cup sugar snap peas and 1/2 cup chopped mint leaves, and toss with a rice wine vinaigrette.
• For a quick and easy cold gazpacho soup, simply put 1 peeled cucumber, 1 cup fresh tomatoes, 1 green pepper, and 1/z red onion, then add salt and pepper to taste.
• To make a cucumber compote: Put cubed cucumbers with dill in a little vegetable stock for a few minutes; remove from heat; chill; and then top with a dollop of plain yogurt and a sprig of dill or parsley before serving.
• Make cucumber tempura by dredging cucumber slices in a beaten egg and then in whole-wheat (whole-meal) ﬂour. Bake on a baking tray at 300 degrees F/ 150 degrees C/ gas 2 until crispy and serve with a dipping sauce or dressing of your choice.
Since cucumbers are among the foods on which pesticide residues have been most frequently found, we recommend choosing cucumbers that have been organically grown. In addition, cucumbers are often waxed to protect them from bruising during shipping. Plant-, insect-, animal-, or petroleum-based waxes may be used. Since you may not be able to determine the source of these waxes, again, we recommend choosing organically grown cucumbers.