Cucumbers are a great snack at any time of the day and year, but particularly in the summer as they are full of water and very hydrating. Aside from the stereotypical usage of sliced cucumbers on the eyes for relaxation purposes, they are consumed in salads, in drinks, and as pickles.
The scientific name for cucumbers is Cucumis sativus (L.) of the Cucurbitaceae family. The Cucurbitaceae contains gourds, including pumpkins, melons and squashes, all of which grow on vines. Cucumbers are a fruit that develops from a yellow flower and contains seeds from the plant. It is more specifically classified as a pepo, which is a type of berry with a hard-outer rind and no internal divisions, even though it is often perceived, prepared and eaten as a vegetable (Toney 2017).
Cucumbers originated in South Asia where they have been cultivated for over four thousand years. India’s moist soil, plentiful shade and warmth are ideal growing conditions for this fruit. The wild form, which is very bitter tasting, still grows in the southern Himalayas. This variety was originally used by Dravidian natives for medicinal purposes. Over time, milder forms were bred and cultivated, and many countries began growing them (Storl 2016). Bees play an essential role in the pollination process. For the cucumber plant to grow, honey or bumble bees deliver pollen grains across plants from the male flowers to the female flowers. If enough pollen is delivered, the fruit will begin to grow. If there is not enough pollen delivered, then the cucumber fruit may abort or grow misshapen. For a plentiful harvest, cucumbers must be pollinated properly and grow fast to produce healthy fruits. Poorly pollinated cucumber plants are tough and bitter tasting (“Why are my cucumbers falling off, or becoming deformed?” 2011).
India still consumes cucumbers in traditional ways, especially given their cooling and refreshing qualities and the extreme heat in the pre-monsoon season. Cucumber water is very thirst quenching and raita, yogurt with grated or pickled cucumbers, is a popular dish (Storl 2016). The health benefits associated with cucumber consumption include promotion of hydration, which aids in weight loss. Cucumbers are low in calories, contain vitamin C and K, potassium and antioxidants. When applied externally, they smooth skin and heal blemishes and rashes (Link 2017). Adding cucumbers to salads, sandwiches or in water are simple ways to add flavor and increase the healthiness of your diet.
The cucumber industry in the U.S. is concerned primarily with harvesting cucumbers for pickling and fresh marketing. In 2009, the U.S. produced more than 97,500 acres of pickling cucumbers valued at over $180 million and over 46,000 acres of fresh-market cucumbers at a value of $220 million. Pennsylvania alone produced 600 acres of fresh-market cucumbers with a value of approximately $6 million (Orzolek et al 2010).
Link, R. (2017). 7 Health benefits of eating cucumbers. Healthline. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/7-health-benefits-of-cucumber#section8
Orzolek, M., Kime, L.F., Bogash, S.M., & Harper, J.K. (2010). Cucumber Production. Agriculture Alternatives. Retrieved from https://extension.psu.edu/cucumber-production
Toney, S. (2017). Is a Cucumber a fruit or a vegetable? The Free Range Life. Retrieved from https://thefreerangelife.com/is-a-cucumber-a-fruit/
(2008). Cucumbers: 9 things you didn’t know. WebMD. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/9-healthy-facts-about-cucumbers
(2011). Why are my cucumbers falling off, or becoming deformed? GardenSouth. Retrieved from http://gardensouth.org/2011/07/21/why-are-my-cucumber-falling-off-or-becoming-deformed/