What is a Cucumber?
When someone says the word “cucumber” many different images can come to mind. Someone who lives in a remote village of one country may consider cucumbers to be completely different than someone who lives in a big city of another country. Even dictionaries have a different view of cucumbers. Merriam-Webster dictionary restricts the meaning of a cucumber to “the fruit of the vine (Cucumis sativus) of the gourd family cultivated as a garden vegetable” while the Oxford Dictionary describes cucumbers more broadly as “a long, green-skinned fruit with watery flesh, usually eaten raw in salads or pickled”
Though not everything that is considered a cucumber is from the species Cucumis sativus or even long, they all have some very common traits. They all grow on a vine and produce fruit in one season or less that is picked immature and eaten raw, in salads or pickled. The majority of what I would refer to as a cucumber are in the Cucumis genus and either Cucumis sativus or Cucumis melo. Not all C. sativus or melo varieties are palatable at their immature stage. Some at one stage or another are suitable for cooking. The Cucumis melo that are most suitable as cucumbers are those that have been bred to be picked immature as cucumbers and generally have a taste, texture and growth habit that ensure that the expression of their best traits occurs during the immature stage of fruit development.
In both growing, taste, texture and juiciness, the two species of cucumber can be different. Cucumis sativus, which originates in Asia, are generally more tolerant of moisture and cool nights, but are more easily stressed by excessive heat. The fruit is generally harder, stores better and exhibits a high water content but presents a bit of a sappy aftertaste, can turn bitter when the plant is stressed and, depending upon the variety, can cause indigestion.
Cucumis melo, which comes from Africa, may struggle with cool wet conditions, but thrives in the heat. Fruits of this kind are not bred for sweetness, but rather for their immature fresh-eating qualities. Instead of becoming bitter when the vine is stressed, the fruit may develop faster, may be smaller or may have smaller seeds. The cucumbers from these plants are generally crisp, yet tender, bitter-free and gentle on the stomach. They slowly transpire water, have a moderate water content and often impart a rich, almost complex flavor with a slightly sweet aftertaste.
So – what is a cucumber? A cucumber is a fruit picked from a vine that is eaten fresh or used to pickle or cook that is generally considered juicy, crisp and delicious.