What is a Cucumber?

M.R. Anglin

A cucumber, scientific name Cucumis sativus, is the fruit of a vine in the family Cucurbitaceae, a botanical category that includes watermelons and squashes. The cucumber is usually long and cylindrical in shape, has rounded edges, and can appear in various sizes. The fruit often has green skin and a white inside with many seeds in it. The taste of fresh cucumbers is usually refreshing, watery, and can have a slightly bitter aftertaste. Cucumbers are commonly eaten fresh or used in pickling.

Cucumbers are brined to make pickles.
Cucumbers are brined to make pickles.

Like the tomato, the cucumber is a fruit. Botanically speaking, a fruit is the mature ovary of a flowering plant and is used by the plant to disperse seeds. The term “vegetable,” on the other hand, is commonly used to describe any other edible part of a plant. Cucumbers and other such fruits are called vegetables because they are commonly used as vegetables in cooking. In addition, they are not sweet like other types of fruits.

A cucumber may be used in a fresh salad.
A cucumber may be used in a fresh salad.

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There are several different types of cucumbers available on the market. Two popular varieties are English cucumbers and the common garden cucumbers. Garden cucumbers have thicker skin that is usually peeled before eating. In addition, it is usually waxed to keep the moisture in the fruit from being lost while in transit and storage. The English cucumber is generally longer, has thinner, smoother skin that can be eaten as and is generally said to be seedless. Unlike the garden cucumber, English cucumbers are sold wrapped in plastic rather than waxed.

Cucumber is a common ingredient in cold soups.
Cucumber is a common ingredient in cold soups.

Cucumbers can be used in several different ways. When being consumed by humans, it is commonly eaten fresh or pickled. When eaten fresh, it can be used in salads and sandwiches. In fact, a famous tea sandwich-- the cucumber sandwich --is made with cucumbers rather than with meat. Cucumbers can also be used in making cold soups, like gazpacho, which is frequently done by pureeing all the ingredients together and refrigerating.

Pickling cucumbers.
Pickling cucumbers.

In addition to being eaten fresh, many cucumbers are reserved for the pickling process-- which is where pickles come from. Pickling cucumbers probably originated as a way to preserve the watery fruit. During pickling, the cucumber is usually immersed in solution of salt, vinegar, and spices. The resulting liquid-- a pickle --kills bacteria that cause rotting. Once the pickle-- the food --is made, it is used in sandwiches and various other products such as relish.

A cucumber.
A cucumber.
Cucumbers, and a cucumber flower, on the vine.
Cucumbers, and a cucumber flower, on the vine.

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Discussion Comments

Talentryto

Even if you don't grow cucumbers yourself Rundocuri, they are readily available during the summer months at farmer's markets and grocery stores. Cucumber salads are my favorite, and there is nothing like fresh cucumbers for these dishes.

Rundocuri

I love the growing season when it's time to plant cucumbers. The hardy plants usually thrive with sunlight and frequent watering, resulting in several months of fruit. I love to go out to the garden and pick the cucumbers for a dinner side dish or a healthy snack.

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