Everything to Know about Cucumbers
And what to make with summer’s crunchiest, most refreshing veggie.
By Layla Khoury-Hanold for Food Network Kitchen
Layla Khoury-Hanold is a contributor at Food Network.
Cucumbers bring a cool, refreshing crunch to summer salads, soups, dips, drinks and more. Here’s everything you need to know about cucumbers, including how to select, store and cut them, plus our favorite cucumber recipes to make.
What Are Cucumbers?
Cucumbers are vegetables that fall into two categories: slicing (or for eating fresh) or pickling. American slicing cucumbers are short and thick, and their tough skin contains a chemical used by the plants to protect themselves from pests. The American pickling cucumber has thin skin, making it easier for the brine to flavor the whole veggie. Technically speaking, cucumbers are classified as a fruit by botanists because they contain seeds, but for nutritional and culinary purposes, cucumbers are considered vegetables.
From a nutrition standpoint, Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, FAND, award-winning nutrition expert and Wall Street Journal best-selling author of Diabetes Create Your Plate Meal Prep Cookbook, says, “Each medium cucumber contains 96 percent water and around 40 calories. Cucumbers are very low in sodium, with only 6 milligrams, and a good source of vitamin C, magnesium and potassium—more than 10 percent of your daily needs of each! One cucumber also provides more than 60 percent of your daily vitamin K needs.”
When Are Cucumbers In Season?
Although you can find cucumbers at your market year-round, peak cucumber season is from May through August.
How to Know When Cucumbers Are Ripe
You’ll know when cucumbers are ripe when they are firm (but not hard) and have a vibrant, darker green skin. Avoid cucumbers that have soft spots or that are bruised, mushy, shriveled, discolored or without their skin intact.
5 Varieties of Cucumbers
There are dozens of different types of cucumbers, but these are five of the most common varieties. For more info on the different types of cucumbers and how to use each, check out our Handy Guide to the Different Types of Cucumbers.
English Cucumbers: a common variety carried at supermarkets. They are long and thin with dark green skin. They are often sold wrapped in plastic at grocery stores and are typically sold unwrapped at farmers markets.
Garden Cucumbers: the most common type in North America. They have smooth, dark green skin, which can sometimes be thick and bitter, so you may want to peel them before use.
Gherkins: their small size makes them a popular cucumber for pickling because they’re easy to pack in jars.
Kirby Cucumbers: these short cukes have a thick, bumpy skin and a snappy crunch, making them a go-to for pickling (sometimes they’re marketed as pickling cucumbers).
Persian Cucumbers: have a medium-green to dark-green hue and a thin, relatively smooth skin and mild flavor.
How to Store Cucumbers
Store cucumbers in the refrigerator to maintain freshness. To extend the shelf-life of your cukes for up to 12 days, follow the steps below. For more info and tips, check out our primer How to Store Cucumbers.
Step 1: Clean the cucumbers: Gently rinse the cucumbers in cool running water to remove any dirt or debris. Pat completely dry with a clean towel, as moisture can expedite their spoilage.
Step 2: Wrap the cucumbers: Wrap each cucumber in a dry paper towel and place them in a resealable bag. Store this bag in the warmest zone of your refrigerator, like the door or upper shelves.
Step 3: Check on the cucumbers: Check cucumbers periodically and remove any that show signs of decay, such as mold or mushiness.
If you’d like to preserve cucumbers, you can pickle or can them to maintain their texture and flavor for an extended period. For perfect homemade pickles, try making these Cucumber and Carrot Pickles.
How to Cut Cucumbers
Although cucumber skins are edible, if the cucumber's skin is waxed or is thick and bitter, peel them before cutting.
How to Slice Cucumbers
For coins: use a sharp knife to cut off the ends of the cucumber, then slice into rounds of desired thickness.
For half-moons: use a sharp knife to cut the cucumber in half lengthwise, then cut into slices of desired thickness.
How to Dice Cucumbers
Step 1: Cut off both ends of the cucumber, then cut the cucumber in half width-wise.
Step 2: Cut each half lengthwise, then cut into sticks.
Step 3: Line up the sticks and cut cross-wise into desired dice size.
How to Seed Cucumbers
As cucumbers mature, the seeds grow larger and become more bitter, so you may want to remove the seeds. Garden cucumbers often have large seeds that aren’t particularly palatable.
To remove the seeds, cut the cucumber in half lengthwise, then use a spoon to scoop out the pulpy center.
What to Make with Cucumbers
Cucumbers are excellent when snacked on raw, but their crunchy, refreshing quality makes them a versatile addition to all kinds of summer dishes, from salads to sandwiches to drinks.
Cucumbers’ refreshing crunch and mild flavor make them an ideal canvas for all types of dressing, including this Creamy Cucumber Salad spiked with dill, or this Spicy Ginger Cucumber Salad. For this Chinese-inspired Smashed Cucumber Salad, cukes are smashed to create jagged edges, all the better to absorb the savory-spicy dressing. Cucumbers pair well with other summer produce, too, including melon. Try this refreshing Watermelon Cucumber Salad or this Spicy Cantaloupe Cucumber Salad.
Raw cucumbers and pickled cukes alike bring fantastic crunch to sandwiches. Try tucking chopped cukes into warm pita pockets to make Greek Chicken in a Pita or Tangy Ground Chicken Pita Pockets. Stack thinly sliced English cukes high to enhance a Veggie Lovers’ Club Sandwich or spruce up Provencal Tuna Sandwiches. Thinly sliced Kirby cukes bring an extra snappy crunch to these Shrimp-Salad Pitas and they’d be a good cuke choice for this Grilled Shiitake and Tofu Bahn Mi.
Beat the heat by blending cucumbers into cold soups, such as this Chilled Cucumber Soup that’s punched up with fresh dill and parsley, or this yogurt-based Chilled Creamy Cucumber Soup. Cucumbers take center stage in these Green Gazpacho Soup Shooters, and add ample refreshment in both the base and garnish of this tomato-based Gazpacho.
Appetizers and Dips
Cucumbers make a great addition to fresh, summer-ready appetizers, including this vibrant Crudite Platter and these Colorful Summer Rolls with Peanut Dipping Sauce. Try folding grated cucumber into dips, like Cucumber-Lime Raita, Greek Salad Layered Dip or Tzatziki, which are ideal for pairing with pita chips, mini naan or veggies. Cucumbers take a starring turn in appetizers, like these elegant Lemongrass-Cured Salmon Canapes where slices of cucumber act as a serving vessel, or this ultra-fun Salad on a Stick, where cuke slices are threaded onto skewers with other veggies.
If you’re into pickling but want a less labor-intensive approach, try whipping up these Quick Bread and Butter Pickles or these Refrigerator Dill Pickles to transform Kirby cukes into snappy pickles in a fraction of the time.
Toast summer with these cool-as-a-cucumber cocktails. Pureed cucumbers add body to a Spicy Cucumber Margarita and lend a cool crispness to a Cucumber Lemon Martini. These Cucumber Mint Gimlets rely on English cucumbers for both the juice component and slices for the garnish. For a non-alcoholic sipper, try this Cucumber Tonic, where a chamomile-and-juniper-berry simple syrup mingles with cucumber juice and tonic water to quenching effect. Kick-start your morning with an energizing Super Green Juice that’s as pretty as it is nourishing.