Cucumber is the fourth most widely cultivated "vegetable" in the world,1 related to both the melon and squash families,2 technically making it a fruit because it contains seeds.3 With its mild, refreshing flavor that mixes well with other garden offerings, cucumbers are 96% water,4 but still manage to provide many valuable health benefits.
Like many other plant-based foods, cucumbers originated in India,5 and were brought to the Americas by European explorers in the mid-16th century.6 There are dozens of varieties available, and they thrive best when they have plenty of sunshine and adequate moisture.7
While commercial cucumber-growing operations in Florida keep most of the country stocked with the fresh variety, Michigan is the biggest state producing cucumbers specifically for pickling, while Mexico is the largest provider for the U.S.A. through the deepest winter months. China, however, is by far the most prolific supplier, with the next two being India and Russia.8
Cucumbers grow on a long, trailing vine,9 and come in two main varieties: slicing cucumbers, which are generally larger and thick-skinned; and pickling cucumbers, which are smaller and thinner-skinned.10 Pickling usually involves slicing and soaking in brine (highly salted water) or vinegar to preserve and ferment the fruit.11 For tips on growing cucumbers, read this guide.
An alternative is the longer, thinner English or gourmet cucumber, also known as "burpless" cucumbers. As the name implies, this variety is specifically bred to minimize burping because of its reduced cucurbitacin content.12 Seedless cucumber varieties are attained through a natural parthenogenesis process, which allows them to produce without pollinization.13
In the kitchen, you have several ways to prepare fresh cucumbers. They're delicious when sliced and eaten with salt. Combined with chopped sweet onions in apple cider vinegar, salt and pepper, they provide a savory, summery side dish.
Health Benefits of Cucumbers
Grown wild throughout India,14 cucumbers are used as a traditional medicine to manage fever.15 They also have diuretic properties,16 and the juice is used as an acne cream and a soothing remedy for tired, puffy eyes.17 These uses led scientists to investigate cucumber fruit, seeds and extracts as an effective treatment in other areas of medicine.
Cucumbers are known to be an excellent source of vitamins, including anti-inflammatory vitamin K, infection-fighting vitamin C and phosphorus. Body-beneficial minerals include bone-building manganese, as well as calcium and magnesium.18
Lignans, unique polyphenols in crucifers and alliums such as cabbage and onions, are known for containing health benefits, such as possibly lowering the risk of heart disease.19 Moreover, one study showed that cucumbers contain powerful lignans that bind with estrogen-related bacteria in the digestive tract, contributing to a reduced risk of cancer,20 particularly breast cancer.21 The cucurbitacins — compounds that belong to the cucurbitaceae family — have anticancer potential as well.22
Cucumber Nutrition Facts
Serving Size: 3.5 ounces (100 grams), raw, with peel
|Calories from Fat
|Calcium 16 mg
Studies Done on Cucumbers
In one study, cucumber extracts were screened for signs of free radical-scavenging and analgesic activities, following the lead of traditional folk uses. Not only were the extracts found to provide phytonutrients with these activities, numerous other valuable compounds were found, including glycosides, steroids, flavonoids, carbohydrates, terpenoids and tannins.23
Cucurbitacins in plants have already been identified as having pharmacological and biological benefits, including anticancer activities. But another study related more recent discoveries showing that cucurbitacin has a strong inhibiting effect on cancer-signaling pathways, which cancer cells require to survive and proliferate. The conclusion discussed the likelihood that cucurbitacin could be used as a future anticancer drug in clinical settings.24
Cucumber Healthy Recipes:
Chinese-Korean Cucumber Kimchi
✓ 5 cucumbers, peeled and cut into 1/2 by 1 1/2 inch sticks
✓ ½ cup sea salt
✓ ¾ tsp Stevia
✓ ½ cup white vinegar
✓ 1 cup filtered water
✓ 2 tablespoons chili bean sauce (toban djan)
✓ 1 tablespoon hot chili oil
✓ 2 (4-inch) fresh hot red chili peppers, sliced
✓ 1 small onion, sliced
✓ 5 cloves garlic, sliced and crushed
- Mix the cucumbers and sea salt together in a bowl and let stand for 30 minutes to let the cucumbers soften. Meanwhile, whisk together the sugar, vinegar and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and stir in the chili bean sauce and hot chili oil.
- Drain and rinse the salted cucumbers with fresh water. Mix in the sliced chilies, onion and garlic in a heatproof airtight container, then pour the hot vinegar mixture over the vegetables. Cover and refrigerate for two to three hours to blend the flavors. Serve chilled.
(Recipe adapted from AllRecipes25)
Cucumbers Fun Facts
For those who have noticed that their cucumbers seem to deteriorate soon after refrigerating them, U.C. Davis has reported that cucumbers maintain freshness longer when stored at room temperature.26
Cucumbers are also highly sensitive to ethylene, a natural plant hormone responsible for initiating the ripening process in several fruits and vegetables. Be sure to separate cucumbers from bananas, apples, peaches, peppers and tomatoes because of the natural ethylene they generate.27
Cucumbers are also highly sensitive to ethylene, a natural plant hormone responsible for initiating the ripening process in several fruits and vegetables, so another recommendation is to store cucumbers away from bananas, melons, and tomatoes because of the natural ethylene they generate.
Cucumbers add a mild, pleasing freshness appreciated throughout the world, which may be why they are so popular in the ranks of garden produce. Cucumbers require a bit of garden space, since they grow on trailing vines. Pickling and slicing cucumbers are the two main commercial varieties of this cylindrical green fruit. There are dozens of ways to use them in your culinary endeavors, whether it's slicing them into a salad or sending them through a fermentation process to produce bottled offerings such as dill pickles, bread and butter pickles and sweet gherkins.
The health benefits of cucumber include vitamins C, A and K and, as well as manganese and magnesium, which may endow health benefits that help fight inflammation and infection while helping to produce energy and support bone and heart strength.