Cucumber : everything you need to know about this vegetable close to pickles

Cucumber is the very example of the refreshing vegetable. Moreover, it is so often eaten raw that you almost forget that it can be eaten cooked, cooking it a little like zucchini.

Characteristics of the cucumber:

  • Rich in water;
  • Low in calories;
  • Source of fibre ;
  • Ally for weight loss;
  • Stimulates intestinal transit.

What is cucumber? What is it?

Food identity card

  • Type : Vegetable;
  • Family: Cucurbits;
  • Origin: Himalayas;
  • Season: April to October;
  • Color: Green.

Cucumber characteristics

Cucumber is a creeping plant. When harvested, cucumbers are the fruit of a flower. It is long and cylindrical, green in colour. The plant has large green leaves.

Differences with similar foods

Cucumber and pickle are similar foods.

Pickles are usually cucumbers picked before they are fully grown and used as condiments after marinating in vinegar. However, there is a “real” pickle: it is a specific variety of cucumber, the gherkin, whose natural size is only a few centimetres.

A word from the nutritionist

To get the most out of cucumber, you can eat it raw with its skin. One portion of cucumber represents about 180g of cucumber.

Nutritional values

For 100g of cucumber:

Nutrients Quantities
Proteins 0.64 g
Lipids 0.11 g
Carbohydrates 2.04 g
Water 96 g
Fibres 0.6 g
Vitamin C 8.25 mg
Beta-carotene 45 µg
Calcium 19.2 mg
Potassium 157 mg
Sodium 4.8 mg
Phosphorus 24.7 mg

4 benefits of cucumber: why eat it?

  1. Antioxidants are compounds that protect the body’s cells from damage caused by free radicals. The latter are highly reactive molecules that are believed to be involved in the development of cardiovascular diseases, certain cancers and other age-related diseases. Studies have shown the presence of phenolic compounds with a slight antioxidant activity in cucumbers.
  2. More than 95% of the weight of raw cucumber is water. This makes it a refreshing vegetable with a very low caloric value, which can be an asset for people who are watching their weight.
  3. Raw cucumber (without peel) is a source of copper. As a component of several enzymes, copper is necessary for the formation of hemoglobin and collagen (a protein used for tissue structure and repair) in the body. Several enzymes containing copper also contribute to the body’s defense against free radicals.
  4. Raw cucumber (with peel) is a source of vitamin K. This vitamin is necessary for the synthesis (manufacture) of proteins associated with blood coagulation (both for stimulation and inhibition of blood coagulation). It also plays a role in bone formation. In addition to being found in the diet, vitamin K is manufactured by bacteria in the intestine, which explains the rarity of deficiencies in this vitamin.

Choosing the right cucumber

The cucumber must be firm, have a green, matt skin (it is only shiny if covered with a food wax) and generally smooth (except for pickles). The smaller it is (25 cm to 30 cm), the tastier it is.

The different varieties

The American varieties are rather short and stocky, while the European cucumber is long and thin.

Store well

In the refrigerator: one or two weeks in the crisper. Once started, protect it with a cling film. Avoid keeping cucumbers near fruits (apples, in particular), which, by releasing ethylene, contribute to increasing bitterness.

In the freezer: cook it before freezing it.

Preparation of the cucumber

How to cook it? How to match it?

The cucumber can be peeled or not, or it can be partially peeled by removing strips with a peeler. However, it should be remembered that it is in the skin that the most nutrients are found.

While greenhouse cucumbers are rarely bitter, those grown in the field may be occasionally, depending on the variety and various climatic factors. In this case, it is recommended to peel them and remove the sharpest end (the one to which the stem is normally attached), as it is under the skin and at this end that the bitterness is concentrated. You can also cut them into slices and let them drain for an hour in a colander with coarse salt. Or split them in half, remove the seeds and sprinkle them with salt. Rinse and dry with a cloth.

Finally, they can be seeded to reduce the flatulence associated with seed consumption. To do this, split them lengthwise and scoop out the central part with a spoon.

One of the easiest ways to prepare cucumbers is to cut them into thin slices and marinate them for about an hour in a mixture of water (1 cup), vinegar of your choice (1/2 cup), sugar or honey (2 tablespoons) and a pinch of salt or a little tamari. Drain and serve as a marinade or relish, or add to salads.

Cold cucumber soups

Grate the cucumbers or dice them and put them in a colander with a few spoonfuls of salt. Rinse, drain and then prepare them according to the recipes below. Serve these cold soups with crushed ice, if desired.

  • Mix them with yogurt, chopped nuts, minced garlic, dill and a few drops of nut (or olive) oil.
  • Gaspacho: mix them with diced peeled and seeded tomatoes, red pepper and lemon, finely chopped onion and garlic, a touch of hot pepper, chopped herbs (chives, parsley, chervil, mint, etc.), bread crumbs, cream or yogurt, a little olive oil and vinegar, salt if necessary and pepper.
  • Russian style soup: cook chopped beetroot, cucumber, fennel and grated black radish over low heat in water; when the vegetables are tender, add a little fresh cream and season with lemon juice and chopped chives. For a more daring variant, serve these raw vegetables in a salad.

Hot soups

  • Chinese style: cook the cucumber in broth with slices of shiitake or black mushrooms (rehydrate them for one hour before cooking), a little soy sauce, grated ginger and crab meat or shrimp. Garnish with chopped coriander leaves or another herb of your choice.
  • Dice it and fry it in butter with onion and chopped spinach. Sprinkle with broth, salt, pepper, simmer for half an hour and mix in a blender. Reheat, add cream or yogurt and serve.

As an appetizer

  • In Lagreek: Take thick yogurt (Mediterranean type) or drain regular yogurt in a muslin for a few hours. Mix with finely chopped cucumber and crushed garlic. Cool before serving with bread or as a dip with raw vegetables.
  • Japanese style: drain thin slices of cucumber, rinse, drain and squeeze with hands to remove excess water. Serve with thin slices of crab and a few drops of ginger juice (finely chop the ginger, put it in a muslin and press it over the food). You can also cut the cucumber into pieces, scoop out the seeds with a teaspoon and stuff the pieces with crab meat and pickled ginger. Then cut into thick slices.
  • Indian style: in a raita with drained yogurt, diced cooked beetroot and diced tomatoes, roasted peanuts, coriander leaves, chopped hot pepper, coconut, roasted cumin seeds in a little oil and, if available, asa-foetida.
  • Sashimi: Stuff thin slices of raw fish, cucumber and pepper strips, and chives split in half; form a roll and serve with lemon juice soy sauce. For vegetarian sushi, garnish a leaf with vinegar rice seaweed and cucumber strips, form a roll and cut into pieces.

In a salad

  • Thai-style salad: mix slices of cucumber, red pepper julienne, chopped shallot and coriander leaves with honey, rice vinegar and salt. Serve cold. For variety, omit the pepper, replace the coriander with dill, pepper and sprinkle with paprika.
  • Greek salad: mix tomato wedges, chopped cucumber, chopped onion, pitted black olives and feta cheese. Season with a lemon juice vinaigrette.
  • Seaweed and shrimp salad: prepare the cucumber and drain it. Mix it with cooked, shelled and lengthwise cut shrimp, strips of wakame seaweed rehydrated for five minutes in water and well dried and thin slices of ginger. Serve with a vinaigrette made of rice vinegar, dashi broth, soy sauce, mirin and honey that will have been cooked for a few minutes and then cooled.

Others

  • Braised: brown shallots in butter or olive oil, add half slices of seeded cucumber, cook for a few minutes, then add finely chopped chicory or radicchio leaves and cook for one minute. A spoonful of fresh cream or yogurt can be added at the end of the cooking process. Garnish with chopped dill or celery seeds. It can also be cooked with peas and fresh mint, soaked in water or broth.
  • Steamed: Cooked in butter and seasoned with pepper and cloves, the whole pickles will accompany meat or fish.
  • It can be made into a mousse or juice (put it through a juice extractor with more consistent vegetables: carrot, beetroot, radish, etc.).
  • Small French pickles: barely 2 cm long, these pickled pickles are traditionally served with pate. They can also be finely chopped and integrated into a mixture of crushed hard-boiled eggs with mayonnaise that can be served on canapés or sandwiches. Or mix them with tuna meat, anchovies, olives and cottage cheese. Or add them to a sauce that will accompany grilled meat, tartar sauce, potato salad, etc.

Allergies

Oral Allergy Syndrome (OAS)

Cucumber is one of the foods that can be implicated in oral allergy syndrome. This syndrome is an allergic reaction to certain proteins in a range of fruits, vegetables and nuts. It affects some people with allergies to environmental pollens. This syndrome is almost always preceded by hay fever. Local symptoms limited to the mouth, lips and throat such as itching and burning sensations may then occur, usually disappearing within minutes of consuming or touching the food.

In the absence of other symptoms, this reaction is not severe and cucumber consumption does not need to be systematically avoided. However, it is recommended to consult an allergist to determine the cause of reactions to plant foods. The latter will be able to assess whether special precautions should be taken.

History of cucumber

The term “cucumber” appeared in the language in 1256, first in the form of “cucumber”, a word borrowed from Provençal. It comes from the Latin cucumis or cucumeris.

Cucumbers come from India or, at least, have been domesticated there. Like the other plants of the cucurbit family, its domestication dates back to the early days of agriculture. The genus Cucumis comprises two major groups – Asian and African – distinguished by their geographical affiliation and the number of their chromosomes. The first gave birth to the cucumber as we know it today, as well as its variants, the second to the melon.

From India, cucumbers spread rapidly in the south and east of the Himalayan range. From there, he headed for Greece and Italy on the one hand, and China on the other, where varieties very different from European ones were selected. It was cultivated in France in the 9th century, in England in the 14th century and in America in the middle of the 16th century. However, until the 17th century, the fruit remained small.

During the selections, the cucumber has lost much of its bitterness, which is caused by the presence of cucurbitacin, a toxic compound in high doses. Selection work has also resulted in varieties in a variety of shapes and colours ranging from thin and long Japanese cucumbers with longitudinal grooves, to small round and yellow lemon cucumbers, to long, smooth English cucumbers that are generally grown in greenhouses, and white skin cucumbers, small or large depending on the variety. Other species have produced the West Indian pickle, Armenian cucumber, snake cucumber, horned (green flesh) melon and chito melon, which, despite their name, are consumed like cucumbers.

To go further

Organic Gardening

The “snake” cucumber can reach a length of 35 cm. Striated with dark and pale green stripes, it has the property of growing in a spiral shape (hence its Latin name flexuosus), while its “head”, attached to the plant, stands up as if to whistle.

Sow four or five seeds on mounds spaced one metre apart. Keep the three most beautiful plants on each mound. You can also climb plants instead of crawling them: this method has the advantage of keeping the plants healthier and giving them fruit of uniform colour, better control of insects and diseases, easier harvesting and saving space in the vegetable garden. In this case, sow one or two seeds every 20 cm to 25 cm. Plan a structure about two metres high and a strong rope for each plant.

To get a little early, you can start your plants indoors three weeks before the planting date or get them in the garden centre.

  • Soil: fertile, rich in organic matter and draining well; avoid planting cucumbers where other plants of the cucurbit family (squash, pumpkin, melon) have grown the previous year; choose a sunny place where the air circulates well.
  • pH: ideally, 6 to 6.5, but can tolerate lower pH values.
  • Fertilization: bury a good amount of decomposed manure or compost before planting.
  • Irrigation: 2.5 cm to 5 cm of water per week on average when it does not rain. When the plant lacks water, the fruit remains small, deforms or chokes. However, reduce water supply towards the end of the season.
  • Mulching: Mulching to conserve moisture and limit weed growth.
  • Harvesting: harvest every two days to avoid that the fruits are too large. For the market, fruits are generally harvested when they are 14 cm to 20 cm in size and 4 cm to 5 cm in diameter, but there is nothing to prevent them from being harvested smaller, they will only be better.
  • Insects: in the family vegetable garden, the insect to be feared is the striped beetle: cover the flower bed with a light agrotextile when sowing or transplanting, to prevent it from landing. However, the canvas will have to be removed at the time of pollination, as the cucumber needs the bees to bear fruit. From then on, rotenone or neem can be used in case of infestation. It is important to limit the populations of beetles, as this insect is a vector of bacterial wilt, a disease for which there is no treatment in organic agriculture.
  • Diseases: the main one is powdery mildew, which usually appears at the end of August. To prevent it, from July onwards, spray a garlic extract diluted in water onto the leaves every week. To treat it, spray elemental sulphur or a copper-based solution (Bordeaux mixture).

Ecology and environment

No wonder people say cucumbers are refreshing. In hot weather, when everything gets hot to the touch, the cucumber stays fresh. Even in direct sunlight, its internal temperature is 6 to 8 degrees lower than the ambient temperature.

In Costa Rica, as in other tropical countries, the cucumber moth causes extensive damage and loss. Since the use of chemical insecticides leads to unavoidable pollution, other solutions are needed. An experiment was therefore conducted with a product known as “Effective Microorganisms (EM)”, of which there are some variants and which consists of various mixtures containing dozens of species of microorganisms whose role is not strictly speaking to control insects, but rather to create an environment allowing the plant to strengthen and defend itself against them. These small animals, invisible to the naked eye, produce a whole battery of plant hormones, bioactive substances and antioxidants. It should be noted that the latter play the same role in plants and soil as they do in the human body.

In this experiment, foliar applications were made every four days: in the control group, only water was applied, in the second group, a mixture of microorganisms diluted in water, and in the third, two combined mixtures. The results left no doubt about the effectiveness of microorganisms in fortifying cucumber plants against codling moth: 80% of the fruits in the control group were infected compared to 36% in the second group and only 9% in the third. In addition, treated groups were less affected by leaf spot and other diseases characteristic of humid tropical climates.

Some people believe that this approach goes beyond organic farming. Indeed, effective microorganisms prevent the use of natural insecticides and fungicides accepted by organic certification bodies. Rather, the goal is to regenerate useful soil microbial populations, create an environment that supports plant growth and help plants mobilize all their resources to control pathogens and develop to their fullest potential.