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The cucumber is believed native to India, and evidence indicates that it has been cultivated in western Asia for 3,000 years.
From India it spread to Greece and Italy, where the Romans were especially fond of the crop, and later into China. It was probably introduced into other parts of Europe by the Romans, and records of cucumber cultivation appear in France in the 9th century, England in the 14th century, and in North America by the mid-16th century.
Cucumbers belong to the same botanical family as melons, including watermelon, cantaloupe and squash, including summer squash, winter squash, zucchini and pumpkin. The scientific name for cucumbers is Cucumis sativus.
Cucumbers were thought to originate over 10,000 years ago in southern Asia. Early explorers and travelers introduced this vegetable to India and other parts of Asia. It was very popular in the ancient civilizations of Egypt, Greece and Rome, whose people used it not only as a food but also for its beneficial skin healing properties. The early colonists introduced cucumbers to the United States.
Cucumbers are scientifically known as Cucumis sativus and belong to the same family as watermelon, zucchini, pumpkin, and other types of squash.
Fresh or Pickled?
Varieties of cucumber are grown either to be eaten fresh or to be pickled. Those that are to be eaten fresh are commonly called slicing cucumbers. Cucumbers such as gherkins that are specially cultivated to make pickles are oftentimes much smaller than slicing cucumbers.
Pickle Tip: Do not use iodized salt in making pickles as it causes them to become soft.
The flesh of cucumbers is primarily composed of water but also contains ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and caffeic acid, both of which help soothe skin irritations and reduce swelling. Cucumbers’ hard skin is rich in fiber and contains a variety of beneficial minerals including silica, potassium and magnesium.
Cucumbers are a good source of:
- Vitamin C.
- Vitamin A.
Store cucumbers in plastic to protect them and maintain their natural moisture. Store in a refrigerator crisper or in a cool environment.
Fresh extracts from cucumbers have recently been show to have both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. While research in this area must still be considered preliminary – it’s only been conducted on animals in a lab setting – the findings are clear and consistent.
The green color of cucumbers indicates it is a great source of chlorophyll which is a valuable phytonutrient.
Pickles are made from cucumbers. According to the pickle industry over 5 million pounds of pickles are consumed daily.
Pickling cucumbers include all varieties that are cultivated for processing into pickles. In the United States, commonly planted varieties of pickling cucumber include Royal, Calypso, Pioneer, Bounty, Regal, Duke, and Blitz.
Pickling can be used for many different foods. It is not limited to cucumbers and or even to the vegetable food group. In general, the word “pickling” refers to a method of preventing food spoilage that involves soaking in a liquid and/or fermenting.
Quick Cucumber Facts
- The cucumber is a fruit of Cucumis sativus, a member of the gourd family, eaten as a salad vegetable.
- Cucumbers should be long and slender for best quality. They should be a nice green in color, either dark or light, but not yellow. Purchase only firm cucumbers and refrigerate.
- Cucumbers can be purchased year ’round but are at their best from May through July.
- Avoid large cucumbers, as they may be pithy.
- Old cucumbers look shriveled and spongy.
- More than 70 percent of the cucumbers grown in the United States ultimately end up pickled.
- Do not store cucumbers near fruits, many fruit surfaces may contain ethylene gas to enhance ripening and looks. This will cause the seeds to become hard.
- Cucumber juice is often recommended to improve the complexion and health of the skin.
- Cucumbers have the highest water content of any vegetable and have only 13 calories per 3-1/2 ounce serving.
- Cucumbers are wonderful when served alongside something spicy.
- The cucumber skin is edible.
- Dill or sour pickles contain about three calories per ounce, but sweet pickles have 30 calories per ounce.
- The phrase “cool as a cucumber” has merit. This vegetable’s high water content gives it a moist and cooling taste. As such, cucumber is generally regarded as having cooling energy.
- A kiwano is also known as an African horned cucumber.
- To prevent growth of fungus in pickles, burn a small grain of asafetida (Indian spice) over a burning coal. Invert the empty pickle jar for a short time before putting pickles in the jar.
- Cucumbers can grow more than 20 inches long.
References: United States Department of Agriculture; USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference.
Quick Ideas for Your Cucumbers
- Slice cucumbers into half-inch thick pieces to use in chopped vegetable salad.
- Use half-inch thick cucumber slices as petite serving “dishes” for chopped vegetable salads.
- Mix diced cucumbers with sugar snap peas and mint leaves. Toss with Rioja Red Wine Vinaigrette.
- Use cucumbers soaked in vinegar and pepper in sandwiches instead of tomatoes.
- Puree cucumbers with tomatoes, green peppers and onions. Salt and pepper to taste – you have a refreshing cold gazpacho in five minutes!
- Dice cucumbers to add to tuna fish or chicken salad.
Always use any extra peeled cucumber right away because cucumber starts to oxidize and turn soggy immediately after peeling.
100 Calorie Cucumber Snack
- 1 English cucumber, sliced
- 2 tablespoons crumbled farmer cheese
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped chives, cilantro, dill or mint leaves
Place half the cucumber slices on a flat surface. Dot or spread the cheese evenly among them. Sprinkle with the herbs and top with the remaining cucumber slices.
Nutrition information: Calories: 96; Fat: 2.9g; Saturated Fat: 1.6g; Cholesterol: 10mg; Sodium: 126mg; Carbohydrates: 11.1g; Dietary Fiber: 1.6g; Protein: 7.1g
Cucumber Punch Recipe
This is the most unusual, refreshing beverage we’ve tasted in a long, long time! Serve it at your next get-together. Odds are you’ll be asked for the recipe!
- 2 medium cucumbers
- 3 cups water
- 1 can (12 oz.) frozen lemonade concentrate, thawed
- 2 liters diet ginger ale, chilled
- 4-1/2 cups diet grapefruit or citrus soda, chilled
With a zester or fork, score cucumbers lengthwise; cut withwise into thin slices. In a large pitcher, combine water and lemonade concentrate; add cucumbers. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Just before serving, transfer cucumber mixture to punch bowl; stir in ginger ale and grapefruit soda.
Nutrition information per 3/4 cup: 29 calories, trace fat, 0 cholesterol, 15mg sodium, 7g carbohydrate, trace fiber, trace protein. Diabetic exchange: 1/2 starch.
Cucumber Skin Cleansing Juice
- 1 cucumber
- 4 stalks celery
- 1 to 2 apples (depending on preferred sweetness)
Pass all ingredients through a juicer. Drink immediately.
Cucumber Cosmetics: Eye Masks
Cucumbers have been used for centuries as a way for skin-nourishing nutrients to penetrate the upper dermal layers and improve overall skin complexion, especially underneath the eyes. Placing thinly sliced cucumbers over the eyes for an hour can do far more for your skin than many expensive chemically laden beauty products.
Cucumber Facial Mask
Cleans and Moisturizes
- 1 tablespoon instant nonfat dry milk
1/2 peeled cucumber
1 teaspoon plain yogurt
Put all ingredients into a blender and mix well until smooth. Apply to your face (avoid your eyes). Leave on for 15 to 20 minutes, then rinse off. Mix a fresh batch for each use.
Read More: Food Facts