Everything to know About Cucumbers

24th November 2019
Have you ever thought about where cucumbers come from? If you're curious, keep reading our post to learn about their history and nutritional value.

Cucumbers, or cacumis sativusare the fruit of a creeping vine and form part of the Cucurbitaceae family. Altogether, this family encompasses around 850 species. Nearly all of those species are vines that produce long, cylindrical fruits with firm skin.

History of cucumbers

There are different theories behind the origin of cucumbers. In any case, people of different cultures have been eating them for so many years that its exact origin doesn’t hold much importance. However, scientists believe that the wild cucumber, which is extinct, comes from the southern, tropical areas of Africa.

But the first references to cucumbers were from Mesopotamia and at nearly the same time, from Egypt as well. We know this today thanks to archaeologist Jean Bottéro who compiled and published ancient recipes. The oldest known manuscript that refers to cucumbers dates back to the beginning of 2000 AC.

There’s more evidence that the cucumber existed in Egypt and that they date back to over 3000 years ago in the time of the Pharaohs. Both the Koran and Old Testament describe how the Jews, who followed Moses, longed for the foods that they once ate in Egypt; among them, cucumbers.

In 1000 AC, cucumber cultivation spread across the Mediterranean towards Greece and Rome. According to Pliny, cucumbers always were on the menu for emperor Tiberius’ meals.

The Romans used cucumbers for therapeutic treatments and brought them to the rest of Europe and China through their conquests. If we have to thank the Romans for spreading the cucumber all throughout Europe, we have Spain to thank for bringing it to the Americas.

Cucumbers today

Today, cucumbers are commonly cultivated in Europe and North America. In terms of worldwide cultivation, they’re the fourth most cultivated food, running behind tomatoes, cabbage, and onions.

People consume cucumbers in a wide variety of ways such as in salads or as pickles. China boasts the consumption at nearly 23 million tons a year. Turkey, Iran and the United States trail behind. While Spain is on the list of top-ten international producers, its population consumes a little less than 500,000 tons a year.

cucumbers consumption

In 2011, there was a large outbreak of the hemolytic-uremic syndrome caused by Singa-toxin producing Escherichia coli. It claimed at least 32 lives in Germany and infected more than one thousand people.

The outbreak caused a dietary crisis wrongly dubbed “the cucumber crisis”. German authorities first turned to blame Spanish cucumbers for the outbreak of E. coli.

However, the European Commission ran tests and found no bacterial contamination on the cucumbers. But the public already turned away from Spanish cucumbers originating from Almería, Málaga, and Granada. The culprit eventually turned out to be celery.

The mutant bacteria E. coli that set off the cucumber crisis in Europe struck Japan in the summer of 2012. Instead of celery, the problematic culprit was low-salt pickled cabbage, which is a popular side dish in the country.

Varieties of cucumber

Despite being a year-round product thanks to greenhouses, cucumbers are associated with summertime.

Their original cultivating seasons spans from June to September. Cucumbers are ready for picking when they show a uniform green color and are firm but break crisply. Cultivators shouldn’t leave them on the vine until they turn yellow.

The size, shape and skin color determine the variety of cucumber:

  • Pickling cucumber: pickling cucumbers are smaller in size and grow to a maximum of 15 centimeters and weigh an average of 125 grams. They have green skin with yellow or white stripes and they are popular for eating fresh or pickled.
  • Slicing cucumber: slicing cucumbers are around 20 to 25 centimeters long. There are two types of slicing cucumbers: bumpy or smooth.
  • English cucumber: this variety can grow up to 25 centimeters in length and have smooth skin with grooves.

As for categorizing them based on how they are consumed, there are fresh and pickled varieties. People also classify them by cultivation methods, which differ between the greenhouse or field.

cucumber types

Nutritional value

Moving on to its nutritional content, the cucumber has an especially high water content that makes almost 97 percent of its make-up. One hundred grams of cucumber contains 14 calories. Cucumbers are rich in calcium, phosphorus, and potassium.

As for vitamins, vitamin C is the most concentrated. The other vitamins that cucumbers offer are so scarce that they’re irrelevant.

Adding cucumbers to your diet is easy. You can eat them raw by adding them into salads or use them in cold or room-temperature soups. How do you enjoy eating your cucumber?

  • Bottéro, J. (2005). La cocina más antigua del mundo: la gastronomía en la antigua Mesopotamia. Tusquets
  • García, F. G., & Barrio, M. G. (2009). El Mare Nostrum Digital: mito, ideología y realidad de un imaginario sociotécnico. ICONO 14, Revista de comunicación y tecnologías emergentes, 7(1), 7-30
  • FAO, S. (2013). FAOSTAT database. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, Italy, 1
  • Pepino (Cucumis sativus L. ). 2013. http://www.euroresidentes.com/Alimentos/pepino.htm
  • Salinas, R. J. (2013). Seguridad alimentarias versus crisis alimentaria. Anales de la Real Academia de Ciencias Veterinarias de Andalucía Oriental, (26), 141-155