Cucumbers are a summer favorite for me, and I love them so much that I think I could eat my weight in this low-calorie fruit!
Cucumber (Cucumus sativus) is a family of fruit, not vegetables, including watermelon, pumpkin, muskmelon and squash. They are native to India and are one of four ancient fruits that have been grown as a food source for over 3,000 years.
Early cucumbers may have been bitter because of compounds that were natural defenses to repel insects and other pests. Over the centuries, great strides have been taken to eliminate the bitterness with cultivation, but we occasionally can bite into one with a bitter taste.
Cucumbers were eaten in ancient Egypt, but the Egyptians made weak liquor out of them by cutting a hole in the ripened fruit and stirring with a stick on the inside to liquefy it. After it was liquefied, they plugged the hole and buried it for several days. The result was said to be a weak form of liquor, but I suggest that you do not try this!
They were also grown in Italy in the 8th and 9th centuries and later spread to western Europe. During the reign of King Henry VIII, his first wife (Catherine of Aragon) often demanded cucumbers for her Spanish salads.
Columbus is credited for bringing them to the New World with other vegetables and fruits. He introduced them to Haiti in 1494 and by 1806 eight varieties of cucumbers could be found growing in America’s colonial gardens.
There are about 100 varieties of cucumbers. Many are found in supermarkets, and farmer’s markets, including English, Persian, Kirby and pickling. There are rare white cucumbers, some are “burpless” and others require a little flavoring in vinegar with salt and pepper.
There are eight common varieties:
English cucumbers are seedless, burpless cucumbers that are long with sweet firm flesh, thin and dark green. They are often preferred for cucumber sandwiches, salads and even infused with water and cocktails.
White cucumbers have a culinary interest because of the white skins. They are served much as English cucumbers.
Persian cucumbers are small and burpless, easily digestible, have very few seeds.
Garden cucumbers have thicker skin and are best when they are peeled because the skin may contain some bitterness and they have larger seeds.
Lemon cucumbers are the size of a small tennis ball. They are mild and sweet with a cool crispy texture and are ideal for salads.
Kirby cucumbers, my favorite, are small in size with bumpy skins and firm flesh and are a favorite for pickling.
Gherkins are pickled baby cucumbers that have been allowed to ferment. Pickled in brine or vinegar, they are a favorite for charcuterie boards and cheese trays.
Armenian cucumbers are long, also known as yard-long cucumber and snake melon. They are not cucumbers but fall into the category of musk melons.
The health benefits of cucumbers are many. They are about 97% water and great for hydration. The term “cool as a cucumber” is common because a cucumber can be considerably cooler on the inside. They are aids in battling immense heat and they are known for aiding with sunburn by mixing up a puree and applying it to the skin.
Cucumbers help with flushing toxins and the ability to battle kidney stones. They are also loaded with vitamins and help with weight loss with one cup having sixteen calories.
Live, love life and stay cool as a cucumber.