Glossary of Foods: Cucumber

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Perhaps cucumbers aren't high on your list of nutritious, versatile veggies. They're more of a veggie tray accoutrement instead of the star of a salad. Or you may only use them as your spa day eye soother, discounting that they have any function at all beyond looking ridiculous. Don't let this common green veggie fool you; they're incredibly nutritious and very versatile!

Cucumbers

Cucumbers belong to the same plant family as melons and squash. They are originally from Southeast Asia, but are cultivated all over the world. Much like tomatoes and squash, cucumbers are actually a fruit used as a culinary vegetable. The three main varieties of cucumber include slicing, pickling, and burpless, each with a different size, skin texture, and use. Slicing cucumbers, which are grown to eat fresh, are larger and have thicker skins. Pickling cucumbers are shorter with a bumpy skin texture and are commonly pickled with vinegar and spices. The burpless variety are sweeter with a thin skin and are easier to digest; these are commonly marketed as seedless cucumbers.

Typically only slicing cucumbers and burpless cucumbers are found in the grocery, but a farmer's market may carry pickling or other varieties. Cucumbers are on the dirty dozen list of organic produce to purchase, so choose wisely when purchasing in the grocery store.

Like melons, cucumbers are over 90% water. Most people also describe the taste as "watery" or similar to a melon, but some report a bitter flavor. They're low in calories and are a good source of fiber. The skin is high in vitamin A, so you should avoid peeling it off. Cucumbers are also high in antioxidant vitamin C and vitamin B, as well as potassium, folate, and manganese, among others. With all of these vitamins and minerals, cucumbers have an extensive list of health benefits.

Eating a Cucumber in the Kitchen

Rehydrate: High water content in cucumbers helps to naturally hydrate the body. Electrolytes restore hydration of body cells and reduce water retention.

Fight Inflammation: Cucumbers have a "cooling" effect on the body's inflammatory response. They counter the effects of uric acid on the body, thus reducing inflammation in joints.

Neutralizing: The alkalizing minerals in cucumbers naturally regulate the body's pH levels, neutralizing acidity.

Weight Management and Digestion: Cucumbers are low in calories but high in fiber. They make a healthy, filling snack; a one-cup serving contains about 16 calories. The fiber slows digestion and helps you feel fuller longer.

Skin and Hair Care: Cooling cucumbers are a great skin care additive for calm, soothed skin. The skin of a cucumber can be used to cool sunburns. They may also be used to reduce puffiness around the eyes. (So they do have a use on spa day, after all!) The silicon and sulfur content in cucumbers is also said to promote healthy hair growth.

With so many health benefits, maybe it's time to rethink the cucumber and start finding more ways to eat it. Use cucumbers in your green smoothies or pressed juices. Cucumbers can also be the star of the show in a salad, like this Cucumber Avocado and Feta Salad, or served with fruit as a healthy snack or appetizer in these Spicy Mango Cucumber Skewers.