It wasn’t so long ago that the cucumbers most people were most familiar with came in a jar – they were pickles. Today, thanks to a wide variety of different types becoming available, there’s a fresh appreciation for the real thing.
There are cucumbers that nearly a foot long and there are cucumbers that are the size of kumquats. Most are long, but a few are round. Some are seedy, some not so much.
Basically, though, cucumbers can be divided into two types – there are the ones with thin skins, such as Kirbys, that are best for pickling; and there are cucumbers with thick skins that are best for slicing (though I have been known to dice Kirbys and throw them into dishes as well).
But the biggest question many people seem to have about cucumbers has to do not with how you prepare them, but what happens after. Put simply – cucumbers make some people burp.
At one point, it was thought that it was the cucumber’s seeds that caused this. And that spurred an exploration of seedless varieties.
But it turns out that it’s really caused by bitter compounds that show up in cucumbers sometimes (they’re called cucurbitacins; cucumbers belong to the cucurbit family). The plant produces these when it is stressed – by high temperatures or lack of water, mostly.
A little of this bitterness is good – otherwise cucumbers wouldn’t taste like much at all. But if you get one that tastes exceedingly bitter, you can usually get rid of most of it by peeling particularly deeply around the stem and blossom ends.
How to Choose: It’s pretty easy – avoid any cucumbers that show wilting or soft spots. After that, look for cukes that have deep, saturated color. Look also for the spot where they were resting on the ground – just like with melons, that should be golden, not white.
How to Store: Keep cucumbers in a tightly sealed bag in the refrigerator.