Cucumber is one of the first vegetables to be cultivated in the world. Cucumber is a cool and crisp vegetable that belongs to the same family as zucchini, pumpkins, watermelons and other squashes. Cucumber is developed from a flower and it contains seeds. These characteristics classify it as a fruit but like tomatoes they are also eaten as a vegetable. Cucumber has an elongated and cylindrical shape. The green cucumber is usually used for eating fresh and raw. Cucumber salad, cold cucumber soup and cucumber raita are some of the well-liked cucumber dishes.
Origin of Cucumber
Originally, cucumbers are cultivated in different parts of India. In Western Asia, its cultivation has been observed for at least 3000 years and it was introduced in various parts of Europe by the Romans. Records of cultivation of cucumber had also been found in France, England and North-America in 9th, 14th and 16th centuries respectively.
Culinary Use of Cucumber
Cucumber is basically a low-calorie vegetable with 95% water content. It is best eaten as raw ingredient in various types of salads. Cucumber dip and cucumber soup are also very popular cucumber dishes. Cucumber has watery and mild flavor and it tastes like melon. There is an organic compound present in the cucumber called phenylthiocarbamide, it gives bitter taste to the vegetable. It is recommended to remove this bitterness before eating the cucumber. There is a very common practice in India in which slices are cut from both ends of the cucumber and rubbed to remove the bitter compound. For longer shelf life of the vegetable, cucumber is preserved in vinegar and brine along with spices. This cucumber dish is called ‘pickled cucumber’.
Cuisines Commonly Making Cucumber Dishes
Cucumber is a very common salad vegetable in Indian cuisine. Green salad including raw cucumber is a very popular side dish in Indian cuisine. In Sri Lankan cuisine, ‘kekiri’, a smooth-skinned cucumber is widely used in salads and spicy curry. Pickled cucumber is extensively served as a side dish with fish and chicken dishes in British cuisine as well as in American cuisine. Though there are very less varieties of cucumber dishes, in world cuisine cucumber is considered as a highly used raw vegetable.
Preferred Methods for Cooking Cucumbers
Cucumber is not usually cooked with any heating method. It tastes best when eaten raw independently or with other vegetables in salad. Cucumber is also used in cold soups, dips and drinks. Pickling is another method to use cucumber as an ingredient. Yellow-colored cucumber is used in making Indian sambar/dal and chutney.
Nutritive Value of Cucumber
The cucumber is a vegetable with high nutritional values. Its most remarkable quality is an exceptionally high water content, which makes it both refreshing and low in calories. It is a natural diuretic, but not a particularly powerful one. Cucumbers have long been valued as an ingredient in skin-care preparations. Its extract is beneficial for the skin and cucumber slices placed over the eyes give a reviving effect.
Buying and Storing of Cucumbers
• Cucumbers with fresh and bright skin are always good to buy.
• There should not be any sign of shriveling on the cucumber.
It is recommended to buy those cucumbers with a firm body.
• Cucumbers free from cuts and bruises should always be purchased.
• Cucumber has high water content hence it should be stored in refrigerator in a plastic bag for up to 4-5 days.
• Leftover cucumber dishes can also be stored in refrigerator for 2-3 days.
Types of Cucumber
There are several varieties of cucumber available in the different parts of world. Here are some of the varieties listed below:
• English cucumber – This is seedless cucumber with delicate skin. This variety is often known as ‘Burpless’ as its skin does not form gas while eating.
• East-Asian cucumber – Mild flavor, has a deep-green and ridged skin. This variety is ideal for slicing and pickling.
• Persian cucumber – Popularly known as ‘Mini seedless cucumber’.
• Beit Alpha cucumber – Sweet in taste and extensively used in Middle-eastern cuisine.
• Kekiri – A smooth-skinned cucumber, mainly found in Sri Lanka.
• Lebanese cucumber – Seedless cucumber, like the English variety with smooth skin. Cucumber
• Cucumber can cause allergies similar to pollen or aspirin allergies.
• Low-moisture and low-soil nutrients are the main causes for the bitterness in the cucumber.