Cool as a Cucumber:
With Cucumber Season coming into full swing we thought we’d give you a crash course in all of our favorite varieties that you’re likely to spot at the Farmers Market over the coming months!
Belonging to the same family as squash and melons, and often treated as a vegetable, Cucumbers are in fact a fruit. In addition to having both anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties, they also contain a group of phytonutrients called cucurbitacins, which have anti-cancer benefits. Their high moisture content also makes them great for rehydrating your body – and so are especially appropriate summer fare!
Lemon Cucumbers –
The Lemon cucumber was introduced to the United States in the early 1900’s originating from the Middle East – and only given the name, Lemon Cucumber, you might find these hard to spot – given that they hardly resemble your average cucumber or lemon. With more of a “yellow watermelon or pomegranate” appearance, they are round and yellow, with a light fuzz similar to a Kiwi (it is edible, but also easily removed), and better resemble a cross between a gourd and a lemon than a cucumber. They are a light green to lemon yellow, turning to a darker yellowish gold when ripe.
Lemon Cucumbers have a mild, pleasant taste which is complimented by their crisp and refreshing texture, and they are also less acidic than the common green cucumber, giving them a more delicately sweet flavor.
They are great sliced in raw preparations like salads or as a pairing to a fruit and cheese plate, but can also be cooked or pickled. Use them fresh to lighten up your summer salads or add them to your poolside cocktails or Agua Frescas – and with their boost of nutrients they make a great choice for smoothies. They also pair well with other Cucumbers, Citrus, Herbs, and most Cheeses. Similar to a kiwi, Lemon cucumber skin has tiny bristles that are edible but may be easily removed by rubbing them with a kitchen towel.
As mentioned they are also great pickled and we love Healthy Green Kitchen’s take on their Lemon Cucumber Pickle recipe.
Mandurian Round Cucumbers –
Talk about refreshing – these sweet treats are the perfect addition to any number of dishes and drinks on your 4th of July menu (think anywhere you’d normally use Cucumber or Melons). A common Italian delicacy, these round Cucumbers actually originated in Asia, and despite their name, are actually a part of the Melon family – which means they are naturally burp-less and won’t turn bitter as they age.
Round in shape, with variegated green and white skin (which sometimes has a light fuzz on it that easily rinses off), they are best when smaller (think baseball size as opposed to football size) as they lose their succulent sweetness the larger they get.
Exquisitely crunchy with a delicious fresh Cucumber flavoring, the Mandurian Round Cucumbers are known for their exceptional sweetness (and lack of bitterness). And (bonus!) this variety can be eaten rind and all!!
Persian Cucumbers –
These Cucumber “Mini’s” have become a favorite over the past few years – mainly due to their thin skin, lack of developed seeds, and their sweet crispy flesh. There are three classifications of Cucumbers, slicing, pickling, and burpless – of which the Persian belongs to the latter. And although classified as such, they are much more versatile in the kitchen – as they can also be used for slicing and pickling (with favorable results).
Persian Cucumbers also have the ability to absorb other flavors very quickly, making them a great vehicle for spices and herbs. They are great as a fresh salad ingredient, as well as an addition to salsas and creamy dressings, and make a great cooling ingredient in hot or spicy dishes.
Make sure and check out Real Simple’s 6 Creative Ways to Use Persian Cucumber
Pickling Cucumbers –
Pickling Cucumbers are recognizable by their often lighter, paler lime green skin, covered with longitudinal strips with rough knobs scattered across the surface. However what helps to make them so great for pickling is their flesh, which is not only succulent but exceptionally crunchy and crispy, and snaps upon bending (even after canning or pickling).
A wide variety of Cucumbers fall into the category of “pickling”, most notably the Gherkin, Cornichon, and Kirby, and as the classification suggests are best after being preserved in vinegar, salt, water, sugar, and pickling spice. That being said, there are several of the non-bitter varieties that can still be used as “slicers” and eaten fresh. And in addition to the usual suspects as the salads, salsas, and creamy dressings mentioned above, pickled cucumbers are a quintessential sandwich, burger, and relish ingredient.
Standard (Green) Cucumbers –
And last, but certainly not least, comes the standard green Cucumber. Entirely edible, they are easily recognizable by their long cylindrical shape and dark green skin which features subtle ribbing and bumps. The interior flesh is a light green with pale edible seeds and has a 96% moisture content.
Standard Cucumbers are most often eaten fresh or raw, and it’s recommended you wash them first to remove the waxy film on the skin (although they can also be peeled prior to eating based on preference and in the case that the skin is particularly bitter). In general they are great added to salads or eaten fresh with dip. They can also be marinated in oil, vinegar, and spices, or added to dill and yogurt to make tzatziki sauce. To get the most of your Cucumber’s nutrient content, simply eat them fresh with peel on or add them to your favorite smoothie or juicing combination.
Even More Varietals (Including Some of the More Unusual Ones!):
Mexican Gherkin Cucumber:
Also called a Mexican Sour Gherkin, these small cucumber-like fruit are shaped and look a bit like baby watermelons. They are good added to salads or can be pickled. They have a cucumber-like taste with a touch of lemon.
This cucumber’s unusual striped appearance has garnered it the nick-name “Snake Melon”. They have a tender and fresh cucumber flavor, with a clear hint of melon. The skin and seeds are also entirely edible. A sweet crunchy, fun varietal to try!
Long with a mostly uniform thickness, sometimes curved, with prickles (or small bumps) on the skin, (though some new varietals are smooth). They are firm and crisp with a refreshing and mild cucumber flavor. The peel is not bitter – thus making it entirely edible.
Botanically classified as a melon Armenian Cucumbers are a light to pistachio green with deep ribs and an elongated and irregular (often curled) shape (typically reaching 12-18″ in length). Succulent and crisp their flavor is fresh and mild similar to the common cucumber.