Cooling Off With Cucumbers

Cucumber (Cucumis sativus) share the genus Cucumis with cantaloupe, horned melons, winter melons, and bitter melons. All these fruits in turn belong to the family belongs to the family Cucurbitaceae, along with chayotesquash, and watermelon.

Cucumbers originated in India from Cucumis hystrix. They have been cultivated for at least 3,000 years.

Cucumbers are listed among the foods of ancient Ur (ca. 3800 BC-500 BC), and the legend of Gilgamesh—a Uruk king who lived around 2500 BC in what is now Iraq and Kuwait—describes people eating cucumbers. The Sumerians of Mesopotamia, the first to establish a written language, grew cucumbers as early as 2400 BC. One of their cuneiform inscriptions dating back to 2400 BC read, “The oxen of the gods plowed the city governor’s onion patches. The onion and cucumber patches of the city governor were located in the gods’ best fields.”

The Book of Numbers (11:15) mentions that after the Israelites left Egypt (around 1446 BC), cucumbers were one of the foods they greatly missed, along with leeksgarliconions, and melons.

Han dynasty representative Jang Qian brought cucumbers to China about 100 BC, along with pomegranates, grapes, peas, coriander, walnuts, alfalfa, and caraway seeds.

According to Pliny the Elder (The Natural History, Book XIX, Chapter 23), the ancient Greeks grew cucumbers, and there were different varieties in Italy, Africa, and Moesia. Pliny reported that the Emperor Tiberius (42 BC-37 AD) had cucumbers on his table daily during summer and winter. The Romans reportedly used artificial methods (similar to the greenhouse system) of growing to have cucumbers available for Tiberius every day of the year: “Indeed, he was never without it; for he had raised beds made in frames upon wheels, by means of which the cucumbers were moved and exposed to the full heat of the sun; while, in winter, they were withdrawn, and placed under the protection of frames glazed with mirrorstone.” Cucumbers were also reportedly cultivated in cucumber houses glazed with oiled cloth known as “specularia.”

Pliny described Italian cucumbers as a “wild” variety considerably smaller than the cultivated one. He also wrote about several other varieties of cucumber, including the cultivated cucumber, and remedies prepared from the different types. The Romans are reported to have used cucumbers to treat scorpion bites, bad eyesight, and to scare away mice. Wives wanting children wore them around their waists. Cucumbers were also carried by midwives, and thrown away when the child was born.

Cucumbers were probably introduced to other parts of Europe by the Greeks or Romans. Records of cucumber cultivation appear in France in the 9th century, when Charlemagne had cucumbers grown in his gardens.

Cucumbers were reportedly introduced into England in the early 14th century, lost, then reintroduced approximately 250 years later.

Christopher Columbus brought cucumbers to Haiti in 1494.

The small variety of cucumber is illustrated in an Herbal of the 16th century, which advises, “If hung in a tube while in blossom, the Cucumber will grow to a most surprising length.” Throughout the 16th century, European traders and explorers bartered for produce with the Native Americans, who had obtained cucumbers and watermelons from the Spanish, and added them to the crops they were already growing, including several varieties of corn and beans, pumpkins, squash, and gourds. In 1535, Jacques Cartier mentioned seeing large cucumbers being grown in what is now Montreal, and in 1539 Hernando de Soto found Native Americans in Florida growing cucumbers that were “better than those of Spain.”

In 1630, the Reverend Francis Higginson produced a book called New England’s Plantation in which, describing a garden on Conant’s Island in Boston Harbor known as The Governor’s Garden, he states: “The countrie aboundeth naturally with store of roots of great varietie and good to eat. Our turnips, parsnips, and carrots are here both bigger and sweeter than is ordinary to be found in England. Here are store of pompions, cowcumbers, and other things of that nature which I know not…” William Wood also published in 1633’s New England Prospect (published in England) observations he made in 1629 in America: “The ground affords very good kitchin gardens, for Turneps, Parsnips, Carrots, Radishes, and Pompions, Muskmillons, Isquoter-squashes, coucumbars, Onyons, and whatever grows well in England grows as well there, many things being better and larger.”

In the later 17th century, a prejudice developed against uncooked vegetables and fruits. A number of articles in contemporary health publications warned that uncooked plants brought on summer diseases and should be forbidden to children. Cucumbers kept this undeserved reputation for a long time: “fit only for consumption by cows,” which some believe is why it was called “cowcumber.” Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary on August 22, 1663: “this day Sir W. Batten tells me that Mr. Newburne is dead of eating cowcumbers, of which the other day I heard of another, I think.”

A copper etching made by Maddalena Bouchard between 1772 and 1793 shows this plant to have smaller, almost bean-shaped fruits, and small yellow flowers.  Cucumbers were grown in many gardens, and are mentioned in several 18th-century advertisements. The ‘Early Cluster’ variety was introduced prior to 1800.

In 1806, Bernard M’Mahon, in his American Gardener’s Calendar, named eight varieties of cucumbers. In his 1848 catalogue, David Landreth II, described three varieties, two principally used for pickling (then the most popular use for cucumbers) and one used for slicing. Botanist Charles Victor Naudin described the ‘Early Russian’ hybrid in France in 1859.  Modern cucumbers gradually evolved from these and other European varieties without planned hybridization, or much selection. Joseph Tailby of Massachusetts developed ‘Tailby’s Hybrid’  from a cross between American and English cultivars and introduced in 1872. The success of ‘Tailby’s Hybrid’ encouraged new cultivars, and in the following decade,  ‘Arlington White Spine,’ ‘Boston Pickling,’ and ‘Chicago Pickling’ were introduced.

Most of the kinds of cucumbers now grown have originated since 1900. The National Pickle Packers Association commissioned George Starr of Michigan State University, who bred and introduced a new pickle variety, ‘National Pickling’ in 1924. Breeding cucumbers for disease resistance began in the late 1920s, when R.H. Porter of Iowa State University brought seeds resistant to the cucumber mosaic virus (CMV) from China to the United States. Russell M. Bailey released ‘Maine No. 2’ in 1939, which was the first American cucumber resistant to scab. In 1941, Dr. Henry M. Munger used it to breed ‘Yorkstate Pickling’, and other varieties. The Asgrow Seed Company introduced ‘Marketer’ in 1943, a slicing cucumber, and ‘Model’ in 1946, a pickling cucumber with white spines and dark green color. Both ‘Marketer’ and ‘Model’ were popular for many years, but eventually were superseded by disease-resistant varieties. Porter bred ‘Shamrock’ in 1943.  W. C. Barnes combined resistance to downy mildew and powdery mildew in ‘Palmetto’ (1948) and ‘Ashley’ (1955). John Charles Walker combined resistance to scab and CMV in two varieties released in 1955, followed in 1958 by two additional varieties. Barnes added resistance to anthracnose for the 1961 release, ‘Polaris’, which is still popular today. Munger bred slicing cucumbers with a higher level of CMV resistance, ‘Tablegreen’ in 1961 and ‘Marketmore’ in 1968. Genes for resistance to additional diseases were identified and combined, culminating in the development of ‘Sumter’, with resistance to seven diseases, and ‘Wisconsin 2757,’ resistant to nine diseases: CMV, scab, anthracnose, downy mildew, powdery mildew, bacterial wilt, angular leaf spot, target leaf spot, and Fusarium wilt.

Today, in California alone, about 6,600 acres are planted with slicing cucumber varieties and 4,400 with pickling cucumbers. Worldwide, China is by far the largest producer of cucumbers, and provides about two-thirds of the global supply. Iran, Turkey, Russia, Egypt, Spain, Mexico, the Ukraine, Japan, Indonesia, and the U.S. all participate in the world cucumber market, with an especially high number of exports coming from Iran, Mexico, and Spain. Annual production of cucumbers worldwide is approximately 84 billion pounds.

Cucumbers can:

  1. Promote cardiovascular health. The vitamin K in cucumbers allows your blood to clot normally and helps prevent calcification of your arteries. Potassium in cucumbers regulates muscle contraction, including heart rythym, and lowers blood pressure by counteracting the detrimental effects of sodium and regulating fluid balance. Campesterol in  cucumbers prevents the absorption of “bad” LDL cholesterol, balances blood cholesterol levels, and displays anti-inflammatory properties, which may make it beneficial for arthritis and cardiovascular diseases, among other health conditions.
  2. Build strong bodies. The vitamin K in cucumbers helps protect your bones from fracture and helps prevent postmenopausal bone loss. Iodine in cucumbers is required for the synthesis of thyroid hormones, for mammary and salivary glands, and gastric mucosa. The vitamin C in cucumbers helps produce collagen, which supports strong bones, muscles, blood vessels, gums, mucous membranes, corneas, joints, and other supporting cells and tissues and helps you absorb iron and calciumPotassium in cucumbers stores carbohydrates for muscles to use as fuel, promotes regular muscle growth, and maintains the density and strength of bones by decreasing urinary calcium loss. Manganese in cucumbers facilitates protein and carbohydrate metabolism and formation of bone.
  3. Fight free radicals. Cucumbers are a valuable source of conventional antioxidant nutrients including iodinevitamin C, beta-carotene, and manganese. Iodine in cucumbers is an antioxidant. The vitamin C in cucumbers functions as an antioxidant and prevents oxygen-based damage to your cells. Manganese in cucumbers is a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase. In addition, cucumbers contain numerous flavonoid antioxidants, including quercetin, apigenin, luteolin, and kaempferol.
  4. Fight chronic inflammation. Fresh cucumber reduces chronic inflammation by inhibiting the activity of pro-inflammatory enzymes like cyclo-oxygenase 2 (COX-2), and by preventing overproduction of nitric oxide when it could increase the likelihood of inflammation.
  5. Fight cancer. The vitamin K in cucumbers provides possible protection against liver and prostate cancer. The vitamin C in cucumbers helps prevent cancer by neutralizing volatile oxygen free radical molecules and preventing damage to your DNA that can lead to cancer, and by destabilizing a tumor’s ability to grow under oxygen-starved conditions. Many pharmaceutical companies are actively studying one cucurbitacins in cucumbers in the hope that their research may lead to development of new anti-cancer drugs. Cucurbitacins belong to a large family of phytochemicals called triterpenes. Cucurbitacins block several different signaling pathways required for cancer cell development and cancer cell survival. A second group of cucumber phytochemicals that fight cancer are the lignans pinoresinol, lariciresinol, and secoisolariciresinol. Bacteria in your digestive tract take hold of these lignans and convert them into enterolignans like enterodiol and enterolactone. Enterolignans bind onto estrogen receptors, reducing your risk of estrogen-related cancers, including cancers of the breast, ovary, uterus, and prostate. Pinoresinol in cucumbers may also fight colon cancer. Oxalic acid in cucumbers is believed to be successful in fighting several kinds of tumor cells.
  6. Boost your immune systemIodine in cucumbers supports your immune system. The vitamin C in cucumbers supports your immune system, processes toxins for elimination, and acts as an antihistamine.

Nutrients in 100 Grams Raw Cucumber With Peel

Nutrient

Amount

Daily Value

vitamin K

16.4 µg

21%

iodine

19 µg

13%

vitamin C

2.8 mg

5%

potassium

147 mg

4%

manganese

0.1 mg

4%

magnesium

13 mg

3%

pantothenic acid

0.3 mg

3%

vitamin A

105 IU

2%

phosphorus

24 mg

2%

calcium

16 mg

2%

folate

7 µg

2%

fiber

.5 g

2%

iron

0.3 mg

2%

copper

0.041 mg

2%

vitamin B6

0.04 mg

2%

riboflavin

0.033 mg

2%

thiamine

0.027 mg

2%

choline

6 mg

1.4%

protein

0.7 g

1.4%

zinc

0.2 mg

1.3%

carbohydrates

3.6 g

1.2%

Calories

15

0.75%

niacin

0.1 mg

0.5%

selenium

0.3 µg

0.4%

fat

0.1 g

0.15%

vitamin E

0.03 mg

0.1%

sodium

2 mg

0.08%

cholesterol

0 mg

0%

carotene-ß

45 µg

lutein-zeaxanthin

23 µg

The states of Florida and California provide U.S. consumers with fresh cucumbers for most of the year (from March through November). You can find imported cucumbers from Mexico during the winter months of December, January, and February.

Always buy organic cucumbers, as conventionally grown ones  normally rank among the produce highest in contaminants. For a full list, check out the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen. Choose firm, dark green cucumbers with no wrinkles or spongy spots. Smaller cucumbers contain fewer and tinier seeds. The skins contain vitamin A, so buy unwaxed cucumbers, whose skin you can eat.

Because cucumbers thrive in temperatures just over 40º F, keep them in a bag on a shelf toward the front of the refrigerator, which tends to be warmer. Cucumbers will last three to five days.

Unwaxed cucumbers need only a light scrubbing. Cucumbers are tastiest served raw.  Enjoy a sliced cucumber salad with wakame, dressed with rice vinegar and soy sauce. Puree tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, and scallions together in a food processor and season with herbs and spices of your choice to make the refreshing cold soup, gazpacho, for summer. Combine dill weed with soy yogurt and chopped cucumber for a delicious cooling dip.

Try cucumbers in some of these recipes:


This blog uses the latest nutritional data available from the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), and the FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration), as well as nutritional data provided by food growers and manufacturers about their products. We believe the information on this blog to be accurate. However, we are not responsible for typographical or other errors. Nutrition information for recipes is calculated by Living Cookbook based on the ingredients in each recipe based on statistical averages. Nutrition may vary based on methods of preparation, origin and freshness of ingredients, and other factors.

This blog is not a substitute for the services of a trained health professional. Although we provide nutritional information, the information on this blog is for informational purposes only. No information offered by or through this blog shall be construed as or understood to be medical advice or care. None of the information on this blog should be used to diagnose or treat any health problem or disease. Consult with a health care provider before taking any product or using any information on this blog. Please discuss any concerns with your health care provider.

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