Long, lean, and green, the refreshing cucumber is one of the most popular garden vegetables. Technically, it’s a fruit from the same family as watermelons and pumpkins, but most people consider it a veggie.
Cucumbers are native to India, have a slight melon-like taste, and sometimes can be slightly bitter.
There are two main types:
Slicing cucumbers are eaten fresh, often in a salad. They can be 12 inches or longer and usually have smooth skin. There are "burpless" varieties that have less of a plant compound called cucurbitacin. That gives them a milder taste, and it may make you burp less after you eat them. You may also hear them called “seedless cucumbers” or “European cucumbers.”
Pickling cucumbers are much smaller and are the type used to make pickles. They can be 3-7 inches long, and they typically have bumps or spines on their skin.
A serving of cucumber -- one-half a cup -- is about 8 calories. They have small amounts of vitamin K and vitamin A and are about 95% water. They also have several phytonutrients (plant chemicals) called lignans.
All that water in cucumbers can help keep you hydrated.
The vitamin K helps blood clot and keep your bones healthy. Vitamin A has many jobs, like helping with vision, the immune system, and reproduction. It also makes sure organs like your heart, lungs, and kidneys work the way they should.
The lignans may help prevent osteoporosis, heart disease, and some cancers.
Cucumbers may also have health benefits outside your body. Putting them on your skin may help ease sunburn pain, swelling, and damaged skin. That's why people sometimes put a slice or two under their eyes, hoping to shrink bags and ease puffiness.
There are few risks to eating cucumbers. One concern may be the pesticides growers use on them. Before you eat them, peel the skin off or wash it in warm running water. That’ll make sure your cucumber is safe to enjoy.
How to Prepare and Store
Most people wash, slice, and toss their cucumbers into a salad. Before you do, you may want to soak them in salt water first. That will lower the amount of water in them and keep the cucumbers from making your salad dressing watery.
You can eat the peel of a cucumber. In fact, it will add fiber and vitamin A to your diet. Just be sure to wash the cucumber first.
When you shop for cucumbers, skip ones that are yellow, puffy, or have sunk-in areas, bulges, or wrinkled ends. Those overripe cucumbers won't taste great. Instead, look for bright, firm, medium to dark-green, slender cucumbers. Any bruises or dark spots are signs of decay.
Store cucumbers unpeeled in your refrigerator's crisper drawer. If they have a wax coating that gives them a shiny look, use them within a week. If they don't have a wax coating, use them sooner. Don't keep them out at room temperature long, or they will become soft and limp.