When most people think about cucumbers — if they think about them at all — they most likely envision the dark-green, wax-coated versions found in virtually every grocery store. But there is much more to this low-calorie yet high-nutrient member of the Cucurbitaceae family.
For example, most people consider cucumbers vegetables, but they’re actually fruits. Ironically, “cukes” are the fourth-most-widely cultivated “veggies” on the planet. They’ve even been used to set a world record (for cutting them, not eating them).
In the nine-minute video below, Samurai Ryan Hayashi sets a Guinness World Record in “Extreme Speed Cutting With a Katana.” He did this by cutting 22 of them, in one minute, on Sept. 13, 2012. The video is in Italian, but no matter. You’ll see the harrowing way he sets the record: by cutting the ends off a cucumber — with his razor-sharp Samurai sword — while an assistant, kneeling in front of him, is holding it in his mouth.
Five fun facts about cucumbers
1) The cucumber is one of the few foods that share a name with a sea creature: in this case, the sea cucumber. (Other examples include the banana wrasse, a small yellow fish; and the lettuce sea slug.) (Editor’s note: In Japan, sea cucumbers are often eaten raw; their intestines are sometimes salted and fermented, then consumed.)
2) Have you spent too much time in the Florida sun? Slice a cucumber (or purée it) and rub it over the sunburn for fast relief.
3) Used as a decoration, the right “cukes” can brighten your home before you eat them. That’s because they come in a variety of shapes; sizes; textures; and colors, such as yellow, red and orange.
4) Cucumbers provide a tasty way to stay hydrated. Since they’re 95 percent water, you could eat two 5-ounce cukes and satisfy half of your recommended daily water intake. That’s because you’d “eat” almost 10 fluid ounces of water.
5) The type of wax matters. So organic varieties are better, according to articles.mercola.com: “Cucumbers are often waxed after harvest to withstand the long journey to market un-scarred … While the wax is supposed to be food-grade and safe, there are different types used: carnauba wax (from the carnauba palm tree); beeswax; shellac (from the lac beetle); and petroleum-based waxes.
“The natural waxes are far preferable to the petroleum-based waxes, which may contain solvent residues or wood rosins. Produce coated with wax is not labeled as such, but organic produce will not contain petroleum-based wax coatings (although it may contain carnauba wax or insect shellac). … You could peel the cucumber, but that is one of its most nutrient-dense parts.”
Here is a recipe that’s ideal for our balmy Florida weather (courtesy webmd.com); makes six servings.
Cold, Creamy Cucumber Soup With Avocado
1 tsp unsalted butter
1 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
3 leeks, washed and sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
4 cups (about 3 large) cucumber, peeled, seeded and cubed
4 cups low-sodium chicken stock
1 tbsp chopped fresh dill, divided
2 tsp sherry or red-wine vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
Freshly ground pepper
8 ounces fat-free plain Greek yogurt
1 ripe avocado, peeled and cubed
In a heavy-bottom 4-quart pot, heat butter and olive oil over medium heat. Saute leeks 5 to 7 minutes, until tender. Add garlic and continue sautéeing 2 more minutes.
Add cucumber and chicken stock. Simmer until cucumber is softened (6 to 8 minutes).
Pour small batches of cucumber soup into a blender and purée until smooth.
Return pureed soup to pot and add 1 tsp of dill, the sherry or vinegar, salt, pepper and yogurt. Whisk to blend thoroughly.
Cover and refrigerate soup until chilled, about 2 to 3 hours.
To serve, ladle soup into bowls and garnish with avocado and the remaining dill.
Per serving: 112 calories, 3.4 grams protein, 13.5 g carbohydrate, 6.2 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 2 milligrams cholesterol, 3 g fiber, 6 g sugar, 254 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 50%.
Serving size: 3.5 ounces (100 grams), raw, with peel
Calories from fat: 1 gram
Saturated fat: 0 g
Cholesterol: 0 milligrams
Sodium: 2 mg
Total carbohydrates: 4 g
Dietary fiber: 0 g
Sugar: 2 g
Protein: 1 g
* For a complete breakdown, visit Food-A-Pedia
Cucumbers are a warm-season crop that grows easily, and they can be appreciated in both their fresh and pickled forms. Planting times differ, depending on where you reside. North Florida residents can plant from February through April and then again from July through August. Central Florida gardeners can plant from January through March and then again in September. South Floridians can plant from September through February. Cucumbers will be ready for harvest in 40 to 65 days after seed-planting.
Recommended varieties include Sweet Success, Poinsett, Ashley, MarketMore 76, Straight Eight and Space Master for the slicer variety. For the pickler variety, plant Eureka and Boston Pickling. Other varieties might produce well also; suggestions are based on availability, performance and pest-resistance. Make sure that you look for disease-resistant varieties to ward off these common “cuke” diseases: anthracnose (A); angular leaf spot (A/S); bacterial wilt (B); downy mildew (D); mosaic virus (M); powdery mildew (P); and scab (S). (source: UF/IFAS).
When planting, allow 6 to 12 inches of space for growth and 1/2- to 3/4-inch seed depth. Cucumbers are easy to maintain, and fast growers. They love the heat but demand their soil be kept consistently moist.
Be sure to keep weeds pulled, and using mulch can help with weed control and cut down on fruit rot. Be on the lookout for common pests: aphids, leaf miners, beetles and fruit worms. Be aware that bees are needed for pollination, so if you need to treat for pests, insecticide applications should be reserved for evening hours.
To have a successful garden, remember to rotate plant families. Avoid successively planting vegetables from the same family in the same area of the garden. Cucumbers are in the Cucurbitaceae family (like squash); other family members include cantaloupes, pumpkins, squashes (summer and winter) and watermelon.
You can harvest on demand when cucumbers are big enough for use. Check plants regularly; once fruit starts developing, they tend to grow rather quickly. To remove fruit, simply cut the stem above the fruit. Always use clean garden clippers or a clean knife; this reduces plant damage as well as contamination. Regular harvesting and the removal of big fruit promotes more growth.
Not ready to grow your own? Cucumbers can typically be found in your local farmers markets from February through June and October through December.
BUYING & STORAGE TIPS
When picking out a good candidate, look for firm cucumbers that have no blemishes, soft spots, yellow spots or wrinkles. Cucumbers with any of the mentioned problems may have started to rot, further reducing shelf life.
Cucumbers can be refrigerated for five to seven days; to keep cucumbers crisp, store them in a plastic “zipper” bag. Be sure to cover any unused portion with plastic wrap to prevent dehydration. (To prevent unnecessary food waste, please note that storage times are suggestions that are based on freshness, not on expiration.)