By Teri Pizza
Commonly conceived as a vegetable, originating from the gourd family and technically a fruit, although its contents are actually 96% water, the widely-cultivated cucumber definitely qualifies as crazy!
Adding to its identity crisis, even the cucumber’s status as a food is limiting – it’s been used as aromatherapy, a beauty secret to treat puffy eyes; when rubbed across the bathroom mirror, a cucumber slice will even defog the view of the your reflection after a shower. Legend has it, it’s even a hangover cure (if eaten before going to bed).
When not beautifying and detoxifying, the cucumber also serves as formidable defender of gardens, scaring away a variety of grubs and slugs. To make use of them this way, just lay a few slices of cucumber in an aluminum pie pan and place them in your garden. Combining cucumber and aluminum gives off a scent that makes pests eager to leave the area.
Known for their hydrating and energizing properties, cucumbers are even handy when kicking a coffee habit – their high nutrient density makes them an instant pick-me-up with lasting energy.
To use this way, throw peeled, sliced and diced cucumbers in a pitcher of ice water as an alternative to your favorite caffeinated beverage.
Types of Cucumbers
This all-purpose plant comes in three basic types: the slicers, the picklers and the burpless variety. Slicing cucumbers are the long, straight cucumbers commonly seen in supermarkets. They’re bred for fresh eating, with thin, non-bitter skins and slow-developing seeds. Pickling cucumbers are shorter, stouter and have more spines, as well as drier flesh that allows them to soak up more of the brine they’re pickled in. “Burpless” cucumbers are technically slicing cucumbers, bred to produce less of the bitter chemical that releases gas in the stomach.
Selecting and Storing
When selecting cucumbers from the garden or the farmer’s market, try to avoid the “fruits” with yellow or shriveled skin. Choose those even in color, without bruises and firm to the touch. Once in the kitchen, don’t wash your cucumbers until you are ready to use them. Wrap whole cucumbers in plastic and store them in your refrigerator for up to seven days. Cut cucumber will store no more than two days.
Cucumbers are pretty impressive in the nutrition and health department. They contain most of your daily vitamins, including vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6 & C as well as folic acid, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and zinc. Its high water content also makes the cucumber a dieter’s dream, great for both digestion and cleansing the bowel.
If all that’s not enough, the cucumber’s photochemicals kill the bacteria responsible for bad breath just like a breath mint!
With its endless uses and potent nutritional value, this puzzling cucumber surely deserves a little space in your refrigerator. It may be crazy, but it’s one produce powerhouse!
Find more great tips on 70 varieties of produce in Teri Pizza’s new book Simplicity of Fresh Produce, available at www.Amazon.com. Teri resides in Ocala.