Cucumber Uses

There are several non-food uses of cucumbers. White-skinned cultivars were grown in France in the 19th century for the production of cosmetics. Today, cucumbers are used in health and beauty products, including perfumes, lotions, soaps and shampoos. Indigenous practitioners create medical concoctions from the roots, leaves, stems and seeds.

The common use of cucumbers is as food, where it is classified as a warm-season vegetable. Cucumbers are most often consumed fresh or pickled. In China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and some other countries, they may be cooked before eaten. The fruit are used in curries and chutney in India. Cucumber seeds are eaten, particularly in Asia, and the seeds can be crushed to produce an edible oil which is sometimes used in French cuisine. Young leaves and stems are cooked in southeastern Asia.

Cucumber cultivars are classified as slicers, usually served fresh in salads, or picklers, which are often fermented. However, in some areas, fruit of pickling cultivars are used like slicers in salads. Small-fruited pickling cucumbers are called gherkins in various countries, including India. Pickling cucumbers are also sold as pasteurized and acidified rather than fermented. Although, not technically pickles, the former are increasingly preferred by consumers (two thirds of the USA market).

Generally, picklers have shorter fruit with more prominent warts than slicers. The length to diameter ratio, about three to one, is important for pickling cucumbers to fit processing machinery and containers. Most cultivars have white-spined fruit. Old cultivars may have either white or black spines. Pickling cultivars with white spines became the standard because their fruit retain green color longer, and turn cream or yellow rather than orange or red when they get large and mature.

After harvest, slicers are graded, washed, cooled and waxed before being marketed. Greenhouse cucumbers have thin skinned fruit, so are wrapped in plastic before marketing. Picklers are shipped for fresh pack (unpasteurized, acidified, refrigerated) and for brined (fermented) products.

About 70% of the US cucumber crop is pickled. Yield of pickling cucumbers has increased more than three-fold in the US in the past 60 years, from 3.61 metric tons per hectare in 1930 to 11.61 in 1990, but yield improvement has slowed since.