Cucumbers were first found and domesticated in ancient India where they grew in the wild. Their use spread to the Middle East and Europe. They have been around for about 4000 years. Columbus brought cucumbers to Haiti in 1484 and soon spread across the Americas. As a member of the melon family, they were valued for their high water content. Today cucumbers are grown worldwide and come in a variety of sizes. The most common slicing cucumbers found in the supermarket are the large, dark green variety that is often waxed to prevent moisture loss. Smaller, thin-skinned pickling cucumbers found at farmer’s markets won’t be waxed. Other varieties may be more yellow or white than green. Local recently harvested cucumbers are crisper and have more flavor than those that are commercially grown. 

Peak Time: May through August

Average Price: $0.89 each

Tips for Selection and Storage: Choose cucumbers that are very firm and stiff to the touch. Discoloration, soft spots and a larger than normal size indicate age and may result in a stale, bitter taste. If they are limp or shriveled, they have lost moisture. Cucumbers are best when eaten in season and fresh. They will stay fresh for about two or three days stored in the refrigerator in a covered container with paper towels between layers.

Tips for Preparation: The waxing on the skin of a cucumber can be removed, at least partially, with hot, soapy water and a vegetable brush. Only peel if it is necessary for a recipe. Cucumbers are used in an endless variety of ways. Raw cucumbers are excellent eaten out of hand, in salads, or can be pureed in soups and gazpacho. They can also be marinated in vinegar, dill and parsley to accompany many dishes. Cooked cucumbers are used in Indonesian and French cookery. Fermented cucumbers (pickles) have been a part of Asian cuisine for thousands of years. They are probiotic and fermented in salt brine instead of vinegar. Fermented cucumbers will be refrigerated at the grocers and the label will say live cultures. Whichever way they are prepared they can be a cool and refreshing summertime dish.

Nutritional Highlights:  Cucumbers are low in calories with approximately 45 calories for one large cucumber. They are a good source of vitamins A and C, folic acid, potassium and dietary fiber, especially if eaten with the peel. One of the interesting things about cucumbers are the health benefits of the tiny cucumber seeds. Research has found that they contain a wide variety of phytonutrients, including both carotenoids and flavonoids that help lower the risk of heart disease and help control blood sugar. Other phenolic compounds like triterpenes help regulate glucose in the body. Cucumbers also contain dietary fiber called lignans that include lariciresinol, pinoresinol, and secoisolariciresinol and are powerful antioxidants. These phytonutrients help decrease oxidative damage to human cells and are prebiotic fibers.

For a recipe for creamy cucumber and dill salad, click here.