The Japanese cucumber is a dark green, cylindrical fruit that contains seeds in its center, surrounded by edible flesh and skin. Unlike the common or English cucumber, the outer skin of the Japanese variety contains small, white spines, however, this exterior is also edible. Although technically categorized as a fruit, Japanese cucumbers are described as vegetables and this particular variety is purported to be the most consumed in Japan. Rich in nutrients, it is suitable for slicing, pickling, and using in salads.
A member of the cucurbitaceae family of plants, the Japanese cucumber is a botanical cousin to squashes, pumpkins, melons, and gourds. During the latter part of the 1800s, Japanese cucumbers were introduced to western gardeners from seeds obtained from Japan. Today it is cultivated widely in many western countries. There are also several different varieties in the Japanese cucumber family and each varies, with some reaching 3 feet (30.48 cm) in length with a diameter of approximately 2 inches (5.1 cm). The most popular type, however, reaches approximately 8 inches (20.3 cm)in length and tends to be very straight, unlike more common, western varieties which often grow in a curved shape.
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This vegetable contains fewer and smaller seeds than that of the common European or American cucumber, and its skin tends to be thinner and slightly more crisp. These Japanese varieties also tend to have a very delicate flavor, and are also reported to have a sweeter taste. Some proponents even say they are particularly fragrant.
Recognized as a health-enhancing food, the nutritional composition of the Japanese cucumber is favorable for those on low-fat diets. In fact, this variety is not only very low in fat, but also has a very low sodium and cholesterol content. It also contains a variety of vitamins that include vitamins A, C, and K, as well as pantothenic acid, phosphorous, manganese, and magnesium.
Japanese cucumbers are suitable for pickling, in salads, slicing, and for use in a variety of other dishes. Typically, due to its high water content and delicate flavor, this variety is served raw, however, it can withstand cooking and may be served in some stir-fry dishes or in soups. In Japan, they are famously served as an appetizer, with sushi. It may also be pickled in vinegar, salt, and sugar — or steeped in soy sauce, sesame oil, and garlic — and used as a side dish or accompaniment.