A Handy Guide to the Different Types of Cucumbers
The differences between 5 common types, and how to use each.
By Layla Khoury-Hanold for Food Network Kitchen
Layla Khoury-Hanold is a contributor at Food Network.
Cucumbers are a versatile type of produce, adding refreshing crunch to salads, making for a crisp garnish to noodle bowls or stir-fries, or seamlessly blending into chilled soups and smoothies (for more info on their nutritional benefits, head over here). Plus, they make excellent pickles. You’ll find cucumbers in grocery stores year-round and at summertime farmers markets. Here, we answer all your perplexing cucumber questions, like, is cucumber a fruit? And what’s the difference between the types of cucumbers? Read on for a cucumber primer and get our favorite cucumber recipes, too. And if you're interested in growing cucumbers, check out our story The Most Common Cucumber Gardening Mistakes.
Is a Cucumber a Fruit?
Yes, cucumbers are classified by botanists as fruit because they contain seeds. But for nutritional and culinary purposes, cucumbers are considered vegetables. Cucumbers prove themselves a versatile player in sweet-savory recipes, such as this Cucumber, Melon and Farro Salad with Feta, and in sweet-leaning drinks like this Watermelon-and-Cucumber Smoothie or these Cucumber-Mint Gimlets.
Types of Cucumbers
This is a common variety carried at supermarkets. They are long and thin with dark green skin and are often wrapped in plastic. (You can find them at farmers markets too, where they’ll likely be unwrapped. Once you’re home, you can wrap them in plastic wrap and store them in the crisper drawer to help maintain their crispness). Chefs and home cooks like English cucumbers because they have thin skins and minimal amounts of (edible) seeds. Try adding English cucumbers to salads, thinly slicing them for sandwiches, like these Cucumber Tea Sandwiches), grating them to fold into dips, a la this Cucumber-Lime Raita or just snacking on ‘em raw.
These smooth, dark green cucumbers are the most common type in North America. At the grocery store, they tend to be waxed (this helps them retain moisture) so be sure to peel them before eating. They’re prevalent at farmers markets too, where they’ll likely be unwaxed, but they can have a thick, bitter skin (particularly if they’re larger in size), so you may still want to peel them before use. They also contain large seeds that aren’t particularly palatable, so it’s a good idea to seed them – simply slice in half and use a spoon to scrape down the center to remove the seeds.
These diminutive cucumbers are a popular choice for pickling because they’re easy to pack in jars. In France, pickled gherkins are called cornichons, and they’re paired with smoked meats and paté. In the U.S., you can find sweet gherkins, which are pickled with the addition of cinnamon and clove. Try using chopped sweet gherkins plus their brine to make a dressing, as with this Russian Roast Beef Salad recipe.
You’ll recognize Kirby cukes by their bumpy skin and short stature. And you’ll know them once you bite into ‘em by their unmistakable crunch. Their thick skin and snappy crunch make them a favorite choice for pickling; sometimes they’re marketed as pickling cucumbers. Ready to try your hand at pickling? Check out our primer on How to Make Homemade Pickles. Because they hold their shape and retain their crisp crunch, they’re also a good choice for cutting into spears for crudité platters or sides, like these Chili-Lime Cucumbers.
Persian cucumbers resemble English cucumbers in that they have a similar medium-green to dark-green hue and have relatively smooth skin. Whereas English cukes are long, Persian cucumbers can vary in length; sometimes you’ll see several shorter ones sold together in a package. They have a mild flavor and thin skins, so they’re great sliced or chopped for salads and snacking, or even tossed in the blender to make a Spicy Cucumber Margarita. And because they’re available year-round, Persian cukes are another good choice for pickling.
Our Best Cucumber Recipes
In this Chinese-inspired salad, cucumbers are smashed to create jagged edges and increased surface area to absorb the savory-spicy dressing. Be sure to scrape out the cucumber seeds first; salting the cucumber softens the skin, firms up the flesh and releases some water, which concentrates its flavor.
This classic Greek yogurt-and-cucumber based dip, spiked with fresh mint and dill, offers a refreshing counterpoint to grilled meat or a mezze spread accompaniment. Wringing out moisture from the grated English cucumbers prior to incorporating with the yogurt ensures that the tzatziki maintains its thick, creamy consistency.
This sweet-savory summer salad is anchored by a duo of diced watermelon and sliced cukes. The mixture is tossed with thinly sliced mint, dressed with lemon juice and olive oil, then topped with a riotous medley of textures including red onion, cashews and goat cheese crumbles.
This summer soup gives meaning to the phrase “cool as a cucumber.” Beat the heat with this refreshing blend of cucumber, yellow tomatoes and yellow pepper, punched up with fresh dill and parsley. Be sure to reserve some of the chopped cucumber for garnishing.
File this one under perfect summer potluck dishes. It’s like tzatziki in salad form, in which chopped Kirby cukes are folded with a tangy mixture of lemon, yogurt, dill and mint. Pair with barbecued chicken, grilled portobello mushrooms or pulled pork.
Make the most of your farmers market haul with this summer pasta salad, packed with juicy tomatoes, sweet raw corn kernels, crunchy radishes and crisp, thinly sliced Persian cucumbers, which hold their shape and crunch during the marinating time.