What is Cucumber?
Scientifically known as Cucumis sativus, cucumbers belong to the same family as zucchinis, watermelons, pumpkins, and other types of summer squash. The plant where cucumbers grow is a creeping vine that develops the cylindrical, edible fruits throughout the year. You will find different varieties of cucumber grown in different regions, and they are usually eaten fresh or pickled. Cucumbers typically eaten fresh are called slicing cucumbers. Gherkin cucumbers are specially produced to make pickles. These are much smaller in size than slicing cucumbers. Slicing cucumbers are available throughout the year, but they are at their best between May and July. Cucumbers originated in India almost 10,000 years ago, but are now cultivated in many different countries and continents. Recently, different varieties of cucumbers are being traded in the international market and you will find them in abundance all year long.
In the ancient civilizations of Egypt, Greece and Rome, cucumbers were very popular, and their uses were not limited to just being food. It was also praised for its beneficial effects on the skin. Louis XIV also cherished cucumbers greatly, and the process of cultivating cucumbers in greenhouses was invented during his time to make sure he was able to have a steady supply of the enjoyable vegetable during any season. The American colonists also took this variety of crunchy and healthy squash to the United States.
Features and Varieties of Cucumbers
You are probably familiar with the phrase “cool as a cucumber”, which speaks directly to the soothing and cooling nature that cucumbers have when eaten. Cucumbers are grown mainly to be eaten fresh, and in India, you will often find sliced cucumbers being sold on the street on sunny afternoons. These cucumbers are usually cylindrical in shape and vary in length from about six to nine inches. However, the size of cucumbers varies according to a variety of cultivating factors as well.
The skin of the cucumbers can vary in color from green to white, and sometimes it may be smooth or ridged depending on the variety. Inside the cucumber skin, you will find pale green flesh that is thick yet aqueous and crispy at the same time. The interior core of cucumber has numerous, edible fleshy seeds. Many cucumber varieties are also grown in greenhouses; they are seedless and have thinner skins and longer lengths, usually between 12 and 20 inches. Often known as “burpless”, this variety of cucumbers is bought by majority, since it is easier to digest than the other kinds of cucumbers.
Health Benefits of Cucumbers
It is still unknown when cucumbers began to be used for pickling, but researchers have speculated that the gherkin variety of cucumber was developed from a native African plant. Spain was one of the countries during ancient times that started pickling cucumbers, since Roman emperors imported them from this Mediterranean country.
The health benefits of cucumber are not widely known in many cultures. The taste of fresh cucumber is somewhat bland in comparison to other squashes, but it’s thirst quenching, and the cooling quality of this squash is truly refreshing. Cucumbers often act as antioxidants when you consume them with barbecued and fried foods. You can also drink a glass full of cucumber, carrot or orange juice. This will not only give you its wholesome nutrient value, but it is also a unique tasty treat.
Cucumber benefits range from preventing acidity to keeping skin well-toned. Cucumber has high alkaline levels, thus regulating the body’s blood pH and neutralizing acidity. Patients with gastric issues should consume cucumbers frequently. It regulates blood pressure and contributes to the proper structure of connective tissues in our body, including those in the muscles, bones, ligaments, cartilage, and tendons. During the summer, cucumbers help to normalize body temperature. Cucumber juice is diuretic, so it is able to prevent kidney stones. Cucumbers also counter the effects of uric acid, which prevents inflammation in from conditions like arthritis, asthma, and gout. You will be quite surprised to know that this squash also promotes healthy hair growth and can treat skin ailments like psoriasis, eczema, and acne.
Cucumber is rich in silica, which is the essential component that aids in developing strong and healthy connective tissues in the muscles, ligaments, tendons, cartilage, and bone. Doctors often recommend cucumber juice because of the silica content to create healthier and brighter skin. Cucumber’s high water content makes it naturally hydrating, and it is well known that moisture is the best friend to healthy skin, so why not acquire the hydration naturally? The extract of cucumbers is often used topically for treating various types of skin ailments, including sunburn and swelling under the eyes. Ascorbic acid and caffeic acid are the two vital compounds in cucumbers that prevent water loss from the body. These are some of the reasons why cucumbers are applied topically for various skin problems.
Prevents Constipation and Keeps Kidneys Healthy
Cucumbers are a perfect blend of both fiber and water. Therefore, it helps to protect your body from both constipation and kidney stones. By drinking cucumber juice, you can consume both fiber and water at the same time. Reports say that the majority of Americans prefer to have a cucumber rich salad regularly as it is a great way to increase your fiber intake. Cucumber is also a good source of vitamin C, silica, potassium and magnesium; which all have their own health benefits. Cucumbers have an extraordinary amount of water (about 96%) that is naturally purified, thus making the water content much higher in quality than ordinary water. Cucumber skin contains high levels of vitamin A, so you will gain more nutrition if you eat the entire thing, skin and all.
Controls Blood Pressure
The studies done at DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) consisted of people consuming foods high in magnesium, potassium, and fiber. The results were clear; their blood pressure lowered to to normal levels. The group eating a diet rich in these complexes along with the other foods on the diet like seafood, low fat dairy items, lean meat and poultry saw that their blood pressure fell by 5.5 points (systolic) over 3.0 points (diastolic).
Cucumbers have been useful for diabetic patients for many years. Cucumbers possess a hormone required by the beta cells during insulin production. The Glycemic Index of cucumbers is actually zero. The presence of carbohydrates and their result on the body is measured by the quantity Glycemic Index. Every food item contains essential nutrients in different percentages. The carbohydrates contribute in raising the glucose level, however the carbohydrates present in the cucumber can be easily digested by diabetic patients. Thus, consumption of cucumbers keeps the glucose level in check. Nowadays, most commercial stores have cucumber supplements as spiny sea cucumber extract powder, which is very effective in combating the effects of diabetes.
Keeps the Body Healthy and Functioning
Cucumbers have excellent cleaning properties, and actively remove accumulated waste and toxins from your body. In many cases, cucumbers have been shown to be an effective treatment for arthritis since it removes uric acid. Since it aids in urine secretion, cucumber is considered a natural diuretic. Cucumbers are very good for optimizing urinary bladder, kidney, liver and pancreatic functions. Cucumber juice along with carrot juice is extremely effective for rheumatic conditions caused by excessive uric acid in the body. It is good for digestion, especially of proteins, and it controls blood pressure and diabetes mellitus. Drinking cucumber juice on a regular basis also helps to cure gout and eczema. If you are having lung or stomach problems, be sure to add cucumber to your diet. It also promotes muscle flexibility, while the magnesium content of cucumbers ensures proper blood circulation and relaxed nerves. Since cucumbers are so rich in minerals, it even prevents splitting of the nails on the fingers and toes.
How to Buy and Store Cucumbers
Cucumbers are very sensitive to heat, so try to select the ones which are displayed in the refrigerated cases in the store. Look for firm cucumbers and check if the color is bright medium green to dark green. Avoid the yellow, puffy cucumbers that have sunken water-soaked areas or wrinkled tips. You will find less seeds in the thinner cucumbers.
If you store the cucumbers in the refrigerator, they will retain their freshness for a longer time. If the entire cucumber is not used in one meal, then wrap the remainder tightly in plastic or place it in a closed container so that it does not get dried out. Try to eat cucumbers within one or two days of buying them, or else they will become limp, especially if kept for more than a week.
Cucumbers can be cut into various shapes and sizes, and can be sliced, diced or cut into sticks. Cucumber seeds are edible and very nutritious, bur some people prefer not to eat them. You can cut the cucumber lengthwise and use the tip of a spoon to gently scoop the seeds accordingly. Cucumbers are commonly used in a number of recipes. You can use half-inch thick cucumber slices and serve them with chopped vegetable salads. Cut the cucumber into a diced shape, mix them with sugar snap peas, mint leaves and then pour rice wine vinaigrette into the mixture. You can also make an excellent purée with cucumbers, tomatoes, green peppers and onions. Finally, add salt and pepper for some extra flavor. Cucumbers similarly give a fresh taste to tuna fish or chicken salad preparations. Cucumbers can be eaten alone in its sliced form, or with a sprinkle of salt or pepper. No matter how you eat it, you are sure to get a whole lot of nutrition from this truly “cool” vegetable.