“As cool as a cucumber” is a much-used phrase, referring to a state of mind rather than the clean crunch of the pale-green flesh of a cucurbit, but it is true. There isn’t a summer-fruiting food cooler than a cucumber. When the weather wilts you, a cucumber is nature’s tasty refreshment.
Cucumbers are a member of a large, diverse family of summer ripening crops, including melons and squash. So it begs the question: Is it a fruit or vegetable? Because botanists define food that develops from the flower of a plant as fruit, cucumbers — like tomatoes and many other surprising foods such as avocados, corn, beans and peas — are, scientifically speaking, classified as fruit. With its unassuming flavor, cucumbers are versatile in ways that other fruits and vegetables aren’t.
Cucumbers possess beneficial antioxidant compounds and are low in calories, and also offer these health benefits:
• Fight heat, both inside and out. Eat cucumber, and your body gets relief from heartburn. Apply cucumber to your skin, and you get relief from sunburn.
• Flush out toxins. All that water in cucumber acts as a virtual broom, sweeping waste products out of your system. With regular use, cucumber is known to help to dissolve kidney stones.
• Contain skin-friendly vitamins and minerals: Magnesium, potassium, silicon and vitamins A, B and C, which boost immunity, give you energy and keep you radiant. Give it more power by juicing cucumber with carrot and spinach.
• Cut cancer. Studies show that cucumber helps to reduce your risk of several different types of cancers.
• Stabilize blood pressure. Patients, with both high and low blood pressure, often find that eating cucumber brings relief.
• Refresh the mouth. Cucumber juice refreshes and heals diseased gums, leaving your mouth smelling good.
• Smooth hair and nails. Silica, the wonder mineral in cucumber, makes your hair and nails stronger and shinier.
• Soothe muscle and joint pain. All those vitamins and minerals make cucumber a powerful enemy of muscle and joint pain.
• Keep kidneys in shape. Cucumber lowers uric-acid levels in your system, keeping the kidneys happy.
• Good for diabetics, who can enjoy cucumber while reaping its health benefits: Cucumber contains a hormone needed by the cells of the pancreas to produce insulin.
• Reduces cholesterol. A compound called sterols in cucumber helps reduce bad cholesterol.
For all their wonderful qualities, cucumbers can, at times, be slightly bitter, and it’s important when choosing them at the market to select smaller fruit. Cucumbers often are sprayed with pesticides, so use organic cucumbers as much as possible. Young cucumbers likely will have smaller seeds and are usually sweeter. English or hothouse cucumbers are longer than most other varieties and have a thin, tender skin, so they are great to leave unpeeled.
When choosing cucumbers for pickling, look for the nubby, small cucumbers (often called “pickling cucumbers”) for the best results. There also is an interesting type of cucumber called lemon cucumbers. They’re called “lemon” not because of the taste, but because they are about the size of a lemon and yellow-colored when ripe. When at their best, cucumbers of all kinds can bring a whole new type of cool to your summertime meals.
Cucumbers are the perfect addition to salads, slaws and other cold dishes. They add a fresh crispness to cool soups, which are especially good for warm season meals. Cucumbers can be shaped into interesting edible containers to hold more strongly flavored dips and stuffings.
Cucumbers of all varieties are loved for their texture as much as their taste. Since cucumbers are approximately 95 percent water, they could be considered a fibrous, pleasantly flavored thirst quencher. My simple recipe for Cucumber Lemonade is the perfect way to use cucumbers to refresh and rehydrate during the dog days of summer.
If you don’t want to blend and strain your ingredients, slice the organic cucumber and lemon, combine them with the water and sugar and refrigerate for at least 4 hours to flavor the water.
5 cups cold water
1 large organic cucumber (peeled and cubed)
Juice of 1 large lemon
½-tablespoon stevia, honey or sugar, as desired
Using a blender, juicer or food processor, combine water and cucumber until mixture is smooth. Strain the mixture over a pitcher or large bowl using a fine mesh strainer, and discarding the solids (you won’t have to do this step if using a juicer). Combine cucumber mixture with lemon juice and stevia, honey or sugar. Pour over ice cubes, and serve immediately. Makes two large servings.
Angela Shelf Medearis is an award-winning children’s author, culinary historian and the author of seven cookbooks. Her new cookbook is “The Kitchen Diva’s Diabetic Cookbook.” Her website is divapro.com. To see how-to videos, recipes and much, much more, by Liking Angela Shelf Medearis, The Kitchen Diva! on Facebook and going to Hulu.com. Read Gina Harlow’s blog about food and gardening at peachesandprosciutto.com. Recipes may not be reprinted without permission from Angela Shelf Medearis. © 2014 King Features Synd. Inc. and Angela Shelf Medearis