Cucumber

Cucumber

Cucumber (Cucumis sativus) is a widely cultivated plant in the gourd family, Cucurbitaceae. It is a creeping vine that bears cucumiform fruits that are used as vegetables. There are three main varieties of cucumber: slicingpickling, and seedless. Within these varieties, several cultivars have been created. In North America, the term “wild cucumber” refers to plants in the genera Echinocystis and Marah, but these are not closely related. The cucumber is originally from South Asia, but now grows on most continents. Many different types of cucumber are traded on the global market.

Description

The cucumber is a creeping vine that roots in the ground and grows up trellises or other supporting frames, wrapping around supports with thin, spiraling tendrils. The plant may also root in a soilless medium and will sprawl along the ground if it does not have supports. The vine has large leaves that form a canopy over the fruits. The fruit of typical cultivars of cucumber is roughly cylindrical, but elongated with tapered ends, and may be as large as 62 centimeters (24 in) long and 10 centimeters (3.9 in) in diameter. Botanically speaking, the cucumber is classified as a pepo, a type of botanical berry with a hard outer rind and no internal divisions. However, much like tomatoes and squashes, it is often perceived, prepared and eaten as a vegetable. Cucumber fruits consist of 95% water.

Flowering and pollination

A few cultivars of cucumber are parthenocarpic, the blossoms creating seedless fruit without pollination. Pollination for these cultivars degrades the quality. In the United States, these are usually grown in greenhouses, where bees are excluded. In Europe, they are grown outdoors in some regions, and bees are excluded from these areas.

Most cucumber cultivars, however, are seeded and require pollination. Thousands of hives of honey bees are annually carried to cucumber fields just before bloom for this purpose. Cucumbers may also be pollinated by bumblebees and several other bee species. Most cucumbers that require pollination are self-incompatible, so pollen from a different plant is required to form seeds and fruit. Some self-compatible cultivars exist that are related to the ‘Lemon’ cultivar. Symptoms of inadequate pollination include fruit abortion and misshapen fruit. Partially pollinated flowers may develop fruit that are green and develop normally near the stem end, but are pale yellow and withered at the blossom end.

Traditional cultivars produce male blossoms first, then female, in about equivalent numbers. Newer gynoecious hybrid cultivars produce almost all female blossoms. They may have a pollenizer cultivar interplanted, and the number of beehives per unit area is increased, but temperature changes induce male flowers even on these plants, which may be sufficient for pollination to occur.

Nutrition

In a 100-gram serving, raw cucumber (with peel) is 95% water, provides 67 kilojoules (16 kilocalories) and supplies low content of essential nutrients, as it is notable only for vitamin K at 16% of the Daily Value.

Genome

In 2009, an international team of researchers announced they had sequenced the cucumber genome.

Varieties

In general cultivation, cucumbers are classified into three main cultivar groups: “slicing”, “pickling”, and “burpless”.

Slicing

Cucumbers grown to eat fresh are called slicing cucumbers. The main varieties of slicers mature on vines with large leaves that provide shading. They are mainly eaten in the unripe green form, since the ripe yellow form normally becomes bitter and sour. Slicers grown commercially for the North American market are generally longer, smoother, more uniform in color, and have a much tougher skin. Slicers in other countries are smaller and have a thinner, more delicate skin, often having fewer seeds and being sold in a plastic skin for protection. Sometimes these are known as English cucumbers. This variety may also be called a “telegraph cucumber”, particularly in Australasia. Smaller slicing cucumbers can also be pickled.

Pickling

Pickling with brine, sugar, vinegar, and spices creates various, flavored products from cucumbers and other foods. Although any cucumber can be pickled, commercial pickles are made from cucumbers specially bred for uniformity of length-to-diameter ratio and lack of voids in the flesh. Those cucumbers intended for pickling, called picklers, grow to about 7 to 10 cm (3 to 4 in) long and 2.5 cm (1 in) wide. Compared to slicers, picklers tend to be shorter, thicker, less regularly shaped, and have bumpy skin with tiny white or black-dotted spines. Color can vary from creamy yellow to pale or dark green.

Gherkin

Gherkins, also called cornichons, baby dills, or baby pickles, are small, whole, unsliced cucumbers, typically that 1 inch (2.5 cm) to 5 inches (13 cm) in length, often with bumpy skin, and pickled in variable combinations of brine, vinegar, spices, and sugar. In the United Kingdom, gherkins may be prepared predominantly in vinegar, imparting an acidic flavor “punch” as a side-dish for meals.

Although gherkins may be grown in greenhouses, they are commonly grown as a field crop, processed locally, and packaged in jars in Canada, the United States, and India. India, Turkey, Ukraine and Mexico compete as producers for the global gherkin market, with the European Union, United States, Canada, and Israel as major importers.

The word gherkin derived in the mid-17th century from early modern Dutch, gurken or augurken for “small pickled cucumber”. The term, West Indian gherkin, has been applied to Cucumis anguria L., a related species of Cucumis sativus, the most common cucumber plant.

Burpless

Burpless cucumbers are sweeter and have a thinner skin than other varieties of cucumber. They are reputed to be easy to digest and to have a pleasant taste. They can grow as long as 2 feet (0.61 m), are nearly seedless, and have a delicate skin. Most commonly grown in greenhouses, these parthenocarpic cucumbers are often found in grocery markets, shrink-wrapped in plastic. They are sometimes marketed as seedless or burpless, because the seeds and skin of other varieties of cucumbers are said to give some people gas.

Several other cultivars are sold commercially :

  • Lebanese cucumbers are small, smooth-skinned and mild, yet with a distinct flavor and aroma. Like the English cucumber, Lebanese cucumbers are nearly seedless.
  • East Asian cucumbers are mild, slender, deep green, and have a bumpy, ridged skin. They can be used for slicing, salads, pickling, etc., and are available year-round. They are usually burpless as well.
  • Persian cucumber, which are mini, seedless, and slightly sweet, are available from Canada during the summer, and all year-round in the US. Easy to cut and peel, it is on average 4–7 in (10–18 cm) long. They are commonly eaten chopped up in plain yogurt with mint or sliced thin and long with salt and lemon juice. Vines are parthenocarpic, requiring no pollinators for fruit set.
  • Beit Alpha cucumbers are small, sweet parthenocarpic cucumbers adapted to the dry climate of the Middle East.
  • Apple cucumbers are short, round cucumbers grown in New Zealandand parts of Europe, known for their light yellow-green color and mildly sweet flavor. When mature, the fruit may grow tiny spines, and contains numerous edible green seeds. The fruit is usually eaten raw, with skin.
  • Schälgurkenare eaten in Germany. Their thick skins are peeled and then they braised or fried, often with minced meat or dill. They are often known by the term ‘Schmorgurken’.
  • Dosakaiis a yellow cucumber available in parts of India. These fruits are generally spherical in shape. It is commonly cooked as curry, added in sambar or soup, daal and also in making dosa-aavakaaya (Indian pickle) and chutney; it is also grown and available through farms in Central California.
  • Kekiriis a smooth skinned cucumber, relatively hard, and not used for salads. It is cooked as spicy curry. It is found in dry zone of Sri Lanka. It becomes orange colored when the fruit is matured.
  • In May 2008, Britishsupermarket chain Sainsbury’s unveiled the ‘c-thru-cumber’, a thin-skinned variety that reportedly does not require peeling.
  • Armenian cucumbers(also known as yard long cucumbers) are fruits produced by the plant Cucumis melo flexuosus. This is not the same species as the common cucumber (Cucumis sativus) although it is closely related. Armenian cucumbers have very long, ribbed fruit with a thin skin that does not require peeling, but are actually an immature melon. This is the variety sold in Middle Eastern markets as “pickled wild cucumber“.

Aroma and taste

Depending on variety, cucumbers may have a mild melon aroma and flavor, in part resulting from unsaturated aldehydes, such as (E,Z)-nona-2,6-dienal, and the cis– and trans– isomers of 2-nonenal. The slightly bitter taste of cucumber rind results from cucurbitacins.

Production

In 2016, world production of cucumbers and gherkins was 80.6 million tonnes, led by China with nearly 77% of the total.

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