Pinpointing ancient cucumber’s origin is difficult, as no wild strains have been found. If one believes botanist Alphonse de Candolle (1806-1893), cucumbers originated in India roughly 3,000 years ago, specifically in the Himalayas throughout the northern Bay of Bengal. However, others claim that cucumbers are native to present-day Kuwait and Iraq, citing references found in the epic of Gilgamesh, which tells the story of a king reigning in this area circa 2,500 BC. Egypt is a third contender: gourds—including ones resembling cucumbers—were found in Egyptian tombs dating back to the Twelfth Dynasty (2200 to 2400 BC).
By the beginning of the Common Era, several cucumber strains were present throughout Persia, Asia Minor, Greece, and Italy. Romans were especially fond of the fruit, and exerted great efforts growing cucumbers. They were the first to devise a system to grow cucumbers during the off-season using artificial methods.
China first grew the cucumber sometime between the 2nd and 6th century, and dispersed it throughout other regions of Asia including Malaysia, Indonesia and Korea. Incredible cucumber diversity comes from China, and 2011 figures from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization reveal that the nation today accounts for 72 percent of the world’s cucumber production.
As was de rigueur for European royalty, France’s Charlemagne grew cucumbers in his garden during the 9th century, and England grew them later during the 1300s. The fruit was one of many carried to the New World by Christopher Columbus, who introduced them to Haiti and other islands in the 1490s. Soon after, Central and South America began growing cucumbers.
Availability of Cucumber
India ranks 30th in global cucumber production, and its total output of 161,000 metric tons accounts for less than one percent of the world’s supply. These fruits are, however, still available year-round on the cheap. And not just one variety, either: a single, nondescript store can sell 4 different types. Long, thin plastic wrapped English cucumbers fetch the highest price, and the large round pale yellow cucumbers remain inexpensive.
Cucumbers thrive in India’s warm climate, and they grow prolifically in the three southern states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh. As per a 2008 paper published in “Agricultural Economics Research Review,” Karnataka grows 60 percent of India’s cucumbers, with the other two states accounting for 20 percent. Because cucumber demand is greater overseas than domestically, India exports much of its gherkin crop: For example, India exported 894,000 kilograms of cucumbers to the United Arab Emirates in 2011.
Where to find Cucumber
If a store or pushcart sells vegetables, it will sell cucumbers. In fact, some vendors wait outside of bus stops and sell cut cucumbers to travelers waiting in the sweltering heat. These large wedges coated in chili powder remain one of the cheapest snacks for passengers seeking a cooling snack.
|Cucumbers of India|
India has many bizarre-looking cucumbers. Here are just a few of the varieties sold in the country:
Bottom left: Poona Kheera
Top right: Dosakkai
Top left: Himangi
Bottom right: Bitter Gourd
Checking for Ripeness in Cucumber
Cucumbers come in an array of colors, from pale green to vibrant orange with dark green streaks. The best indicator of ripeness, then, is by their skin health.
A ripe cucumber is firm and heavy for its size. They are rarely sold unripe, but customers should be on the lookout for the spoiled, overripe fruits that tend to languish on many shelves. Spoiled, bitter-tasting cucumbers have wrinkled, shriveled ends. Although the cucumber’s middle may be large and plump, much of the fruit will be wasted from lopping off the bitter, desiccated ends. Also avoid cucumbers with sunken spots. If the flesh yields to the touch and feels mushy, it’s overripe.
Cucumbers are related to watermelons; and, like a watermelon, a cucumber should make a hollow, thudding sound when ripe.
Taste of Cucumber
A cucumber tastes crisp, firm, watery, juicy, and slightly salty. The variety of the cucumber affects these ratios. Dosakais, for instance, are not as watery, and their flesh is firm and spongy like a zucchini’s. Dosakai’s seeds are also saltier than a standard slicing cucumber. Some cucumbers have a very thick skin that requires peeling. Doing so will keep the texture uniform.
As per the USDA nutrient database, 100g of cucumber contains the following values:
3.6g Carbs (1% RDI)
.5g Fiber (2% RDI)
.7g Protein (1% RDI)
B1/Thiamine (2% RDI)
B2/Riboflavin (2% RDI)
.3mg B5/Pantothenic Acid (3% RDI)
B6/Pyridoxine (2% RDI)
7mcg Folate (2% RDI)
105IU Vitamin A (2% RDI)
2.8mg Vitamin C (5% RDI)
16.4mcg Vitamin K (21% RDI)
16mg Calcium (2% RDI)
Copper (2% RDI)
.3mg Iron (2% RDI)
13mg Magnesium (3% RDI)
.1mg Manganese (4% RDI)
24mg Phosphorous (2% RDI)
147mg Potassium (4% RDI)
.2mg Zinc (1% RDI)
Health Benefits of Cucumber
Nutrient-rich cucumbers provide a number of health benefits. Cucumbers are a great source of silica, a trace mineral that strengthens connective tissues. These connective tissues are imperative for muscles, tendons, bone, cartilage, and skin health. Cucumbers also have caffeic and ascorbic acid; compounds rectify skin swelling, fluid retention, burns and itchiness.
Civilizations throughout the world have prescribed cucumbers to treat various ailments. In Egypt, healers recommended mixing cucumber leaves with salt and applying on the breasts to promote milk production. Physicians also advised eating cucumbers to remedy stomach ailments and heartburn. In Ayurveda, cucumbers act as a refrigerant, diuretic and febrifuge. They manage urinary tract infections, acne, and quench the thirst.
The medical community illuminates the following benefits:
-- A 2009 study published in Current Pharmaceutical Design explains that cucurbitacins have immense promise as an inflammation drug and in cancer therapy drugs based on their apoptotic effects against cancer cell lines. Indeed, several reports, such as a 2013 study published in the International Journal of Health Sciences, point to the antiproliferative ability of cucurbitacins when tested against breast cancer, uterine cancer, lung cancer, ovarian and prostate cancer cells.
-Cucumbers are high in antioxidants, substances that sweep the body of harmful free radicals. Its antioxidants coupled with its skin-boosting phytonutrients keep signs of aging at bay.
--According to a 2010 study published in the Journal of Food Biochemistry, cucumber extracts exhibited antibacterial activity against six strains of bacteria, and antifungal properties against three fungi types.
--Cucumbers aid in weight loss when substituted in lieu of popcorn or potato chips. The fruit is high in fiber and water, low in sugar, has negligible calories, and makes for a satisfying crunchy snack.
-Cucumbers are one of the few foods high in vitamin K. Although the National Institutes of Health state that it’s difficult to be deficient in this nutrient, natural health advocate, Dr. Joseph Mercola, predicts that vitamin K will become the next undetected and undiagnosed deficiency. Vitamin K carries out a number of crucial functions, including:
--Maintaining bone health
--Diminishing calcification, which often leads to gout and arthritic problems
--Reducing the risk of coronary heart disease
--Keeping excessive calcium out of bones and of arteries
--Reducing the risk osteoporosis
--Improving brain function and reducing the risk of dementia
How to Open/Cut
How to prepare a cucumber depends on its purpose. For salads, slice the cucumber into round chips. To use for dipping in hummus, salsa, and other dips, cut into small wedges. Or, use a vegetable peeler or a mandolin and shave the fruit into long noodle-like slices. Add these noodles to Thai papaya salads, or add a chunky Italian tomato sauce.
On the question of whether to eat the skin and seeds, stick with the following rule: If the cucumber is organic, leave the skin in tact. If conventionally grown, peel the skin. Although the skin contains beneficial silica and cucurbitin, conventional cucumbers are notorious for its high levels of pesticides. Additionally, cucumbers grow on the dirt and may accumulate bacteria. Always wash the fruits thoroughly before eating.
The seeds are also nutrient-rich, but impart a salty taste that some find undesirable. To remove the seeds, simply cut the cucumber length-wise and scrape them out with a tablespoon. Note: thinner cucumbers have fewer seeds than their thicker counterparts.
Avoid storing cucumbers at room temperature, as heat and humidity accelerates wilting. Whole cucumbers keep for a week when placed in the refrigerator. Sliced cucumbers last for three to four days when sealed in an airtight container. To prevent the slices from drying out, stack them on top of the other. Do not freeze cucumbers, as they’re sensitive to frost.
Cucumber Recipe Ideas and Uses
Cucumbers are delightful in salads:
--Mix soy sauce, chili oil, and peanut butter into a dressing. Add sesame seeds and peanuts, and combine with sliced cucumbers to make a simple Asian cucumber salad.
--Or, make a Greek cucumber salad by combining slices with tomatoes, kalamata olives, garbanzo beans, capsicum, and onions with a dressing made of fresh basil, thyme, garlic, and olive oil.
--Make an Indian cucumber lentil salad by tossing seasoned lentils with lemon juice, cucumber, olive oil, tomato, shredded carrot, salt and pepper.
--Add cucumber slices to sandwiches, and include other toppings like eggless mayo, firm tofu, dill, basil, salt, pepper and tomato.
--Make a cold soup by blending cucumber with avocado, lemon juice and adding salt and pepper.
-Create a refreshing spritzer by adding mint and cucumber to sparkling water
--Juice cucumber with green apples. Other complements include muskmelon, watermelon, spinach, gourds, beetroot, and celery.
--Make a hydrating cucumber facemask by pureeing cucumber, avocado and adding turmeric. Apply topically and let the mix sit for 30 minutes before rinsing.
--Make homemade pickles: slice 5 pickles lengthwise and then into quarter sticks. Separately, mix ½ quart of brine, 1/8 cup of white wine vinegar, and 1 tsbp salt. Place the cucumber slices in a jar, and add dill, cloves of garlic, and mustard seeds. Pour the brine over the jar, enough to cover the cucumber slices fully. Add an onion to weigh the cucumber down if necessary. Cover, and leave at room temperature for a few days until the cucumbers taste like pickles. Transfer the fridge, where they’ll keep for 6 months to a year.
Fruits: lemon, lime, sweet lime, muskmelon, watermelon, pomegranate, cashew apple, java apple, wax apple, amla, avocado, bilimbi, carambola
Vegetables: Tomato, bell pepper, jicama, carrot, chickpea, fava bean, field beans
Herbs, spices, and oil: white wine vinegar, balsamic, salt, pepper, olive oil, lemon juice, limejuice, mint, cilantro, parsley, basil, oregano, thyme, dill, cumin, turmeric, mustard, garlic, ginger, onion, soy sauce, wasabi, sesame, melon seeds
The phrase, “cool as a cucumber” comes from the fact that cucumbers can be 20 degrees cooler on the inside than the outside.
In 2011, the tiny region of the occupied Palestine territory grew 63% more cucumbers than India.
Berkeley City College professor, Eric Gerlach, comments on Heraclitus’s analytical nature of the Greek scholars. In criticism of Pythagoras, Heraclitus said he was “believing himself in one life to have been a cucumber, and in another a sardine.”
Khira, Kankri, Tihi (Hindi)
Maghe Kaayi (Kannaada)
Kakkari, Vellari (Malayalam)
Vellarikkay, Karkati (Tamil)
Dosa kaya (Telegu)
Muskmelon (Cucumis melo)
*Cucumbers have an extensive family tree encompassing melons, squash, and gourds.