One of the world’s most ancient foods, the cucumber has been bred from a bitter vining gourd into a juicy, cooling vegetable with an herbaceous sweetness.

SEASONAL in Southern California

History

Native to India, the cucumber has been grown as a food source for over 3000 years. A staple of the ancient Egyptian diet, the cucumber was also used to make liquor by cutting a hole in the ripe fruit, mashing the inside with a stick, plugging the hole, and letting it ferment. The cucumber has long been a favorite of royalty—the Roman emperor Tiberius ate cucumbers every day, and Catherine of Aragon, the first wife of King Henry VIII, demanded them as well. Cucumbers were brought by Columbus to the New World, first to Haiti and later to the Americas. By the time of American colonization, eight varieties of cucumbers were being grown in the United States. For a brief period in the 18th century, medical journals warned that it was dangerous to eat uncooked cucumbers. However, by the 19th century, cucumbers had made a comeback, thanks in part to the newly formed Heinz company adding cucumber pickles to their product list.

Nutrition

Thanks to their high water content, cucumbers have a lower concentration of nutrients than many vegetables. That said, they are a good source of vitamins A and C, iron, and calcium, as well as various antioxidants.

Storage

Wrap unwashed cucumbers in a dry towel, seal in a plastic bag, and store in the refrigerator crisper for up to 2 weeks.

Preparation

While cucumbers are mainly used raw in salads or pickled, they are also delicious when grilled and served with herbs, fresh cheese or yogurt, and olive oil. Cucumbers can be juiced, blended into smoothies, or sliced and added to water or seltzer for a refreshing taste. Cucumbers are also popular when spiralized into vegetable “noodles” and used as a replacement for spaghetti in cold pasta dishes. Other uses for cucumbers include blending with green tomatoes into gazpacho, combining with garlic and yogurt for tzatziki, and dusting with chamoy for pepinos locos.

Cooking

Slice cucumbers into rings or small sticks. Toss with salt and let drain for at least 30 minutes. Add to a bowl with thinly sliced red onion, chopped cilantro, and crushed peanuts. Season with a mix of rice vinegar, sugar, sesame oil, crushed garlic, and Korean chili paste. Toss to coat, and serve cold.

Pro Tips

To remove cucumber bumps (or “burps”) without peeling, simply rub a cloth or vegetable brush along the length of the fruit until cucumber is smooth to the touch.

Armenian Cucumber

Not a true cucumber, but rather a variety of musk melon, Armenian cucumbers were first cultivated in Armenia in the 15th century. The light-green skin is thin and smooth, and the fruit is very refreshing and sweet.

Lemon Cucumber

A yellow-skinned cucumber that is typically spherical in shape, the lemon cucumber has very sweet, juicy flesh and thin skin that is easily bruised. Believed to have originated in India or the Middle-East, lemon cucumbers were introduced to the United States sometime in the early 20th century.

Pickling Cucumber

These cucumbers are thicker and shorter than slicing cucumbers, typically with dense flesh and thick, sometimes spiny skin that stays firm even after months of soaking in brine.

Slicing Cucumber

Known for their thin, smooth skin and firm flesh, slicing cucumbers are considerably longer than other varieties and have a longer shelf life.

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