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Cucumbers, which are grown around the world, are often used as a base for sauces. There are many different varieties of cucumber dipping sauce, and each culture that makes this kind of sauce infuses its own herbs and spices into it. In most cases, cucumber sauces are made into thick, yogurt-based sauces, though thin, vinegar-based sauces can also be found. Traditionally, a cucumber dipping sauce is most often used on bread or as a condiment.
The star of any cucumber dipping sauce is, of course, the cucumber. Though commonly thought of as a vegetable, the cucumber is actually the fruiting body of a vine that is closely related to both melons and squashes. Humans first domesticated cucumbers a few thousand years ago, and since that time, thousands of varieties have emerged. The flavor of a cucumber can vary depending on the breed or the fruit's ripeness. In general, cucumbers have a mild, slightly bitter, slightly sweet, and very watery flavor.
One of the most common types of cucumber dipping sauce is a Greek or Turkish sauce known as tzatziki. This sauce is made of cucumbers, yogurt, garlic, parsley, olive oil, and salt and pepper. Traditionally, it's served as an appetizer with warm flat bread or as a condiment on wraps. It can also be used to balance some of the heat from hot pepper sauces or spicy meats that are used in Mediterranean cuisine.
Many variations of tzatziki are eaten around the world. The yogurt, which in a traditional tzatziki would be made from sheep or goat's milk, can be replaced with yogurt made from cow's milk, sour cream, or mayonnaise. The parsley in the cucumber dipping sauce can be replaced with other herbs, mint and cilantro being popular alternatives. Additional spices, such as cumin, coriander, or cayenne pepper can be added to the dipping sauce as well, and lemon or lime juice may also be included to give the sauce more of a sour flavor. As an alternative to citrus, sour cucumbers, such as lemon cucumbers, can be used to make the sauce sour.
Though cucumber dipping sauce is usually eaten for its cooling properties, it can include hot peppers. The coolness of the cucumber balances the heat of jalapeño or other spicy peppers well, allowing more of the flavor of the pepper to come through without so much of the spicy kick that comes with it. In most cases, this type of dipping sauce also contains yogurt or sour cream.
Vinegar-based cucumber dipping sauce is also made around the world. This type of dipping sauce pickles the cucumbers slightly, giving the sauce a very sour flavor. In order to make this type of sauce, vinegar, sugar, salt, and water are thoroughly combined, usually by boiling them, and then mixed with finely sliced or shredded cucumber. Hot peppers are also commonly used in these sauces, giving them quite a kick of both spicy and sour when they are used as a dip for breads, wraps, or fresh vegetables. A vinegar-based cucumber sauce can be eaten immediately, but it is usually left to sit for an hour or more so that the cucumbers can soak up the vinegar and spices.