Ever wonder how to beat the scorching summer heat? Just remember your humble crunchy cucumber ! Nonetheless, this wonderful low calorie vegetable indeed has more nutrients to offer than just water and electrolytes.
It is one of the oldest cultivated crops and believed to be originating in the northern plains of Indian subcontinent. The plant is a creeper (vine) like other members of Cucurbita family, for example, gourds,squashes, melons, zucchini, etc.
Botanically; it belongs to the Cucurbitaceae family; and is known scientifically as Cucumis sativus.
Cucumber is easy to grow. Varieties, varying in size, shape, and color, are cultivated all around the world. In general, the fruit features dark-green skin, crispy moisture rich flesh, and small edible seeds concentrated at its core.
As in other squash members, cucumbers too are best-harvested young, tender and just short of reaching maturity, at the stage when they taste sweet, have crunchy texture, and unique flavor. If left uninterrupted, the fruit continues to grow in size, its skin becomes tougher and turns yellow, and seeds become hard and inedible. Fresh cucumbers are available throughout the season and can be eaten raw as is or in vegetable salads or juicing.
Health benefits of Cucumber
- It is one of the very low calorie vegetables; provide just 15 calories per 100 g. It contains no saturated fats or cholesterol. Cucumber peel is a good source of dietary fiber that helps reduce constipation, and offer some protection against colon cancers by eliminating toxic compounds from the gut.
- It is a very good source of potassium, an important intracellular electrolyte. 100 g of cucumber provides 147 mg of potassium but only 2 mg of sodium. Potassium is a heart friendly electrolyte helps bring a reduction in total blood pressure and heart rates by countering effects of sodium.
- Cucumbers contains unique anti-oxidants in moderate ratios such as β-carotene and α-carotene, vitamin-C, vitamin-A, zea-xanthin and lutein. These compounds help act as protective scavengers against oxygen-derived free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS) that play a role in aging and various disease processes. Their total antioxidant strength, measured in terms of oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC value), is 214 µmol TE/100 g.
- Cucumbers have mild diuretic property, which perhaps attributed to their free-water, and potassium and low sodium content. This helps in checking weight gain and high blood pressure.
- They surprisingly have a high amount of vitamin K, provides about 17 µg of this vitamin per 100 g. Vitamin-K has been found to have a potential role in bone strength by promoting osteotrophic (bone mass building) activity. It also has established role in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease patients by limiting neuronal damage in their brain.
Cucumbers are readily sold in the stores all around the season. Fresh varieties, depending upon the cultivar type and region, as well as preserved, pre-processed, and pickled are also made available in these stores.
In the store, buy fresh ones that feature bright green color, firm and stout in texture. Look for spots, cuts or breaks over its surface. Do not buy overly matured or yellow colored since they tend to contain more insoluble fiber and mature seeds. Furthermore, avoid those with wrinkled ends as they indicate old stock and state of de-hydration. Go for organically grown products to get rich flavor and nutrient content.
Once at home, they should be washed thoroughly in clean water to rid off any surface dust and pesticides. The skin comes in a variety of colors and often with tiny spikes that should be rubbed off easily. Do not discard the peel as it has vital minerals, phyto-chemicals, and fiber.
To store, keep them at room temperature for a day or two, but better stored inside the refrigerator set at high relative humidity where they stay fresh for several days.
Preparation and serving methods
Wash them thoroughly in cold running water just before use. Sometimes, they may require light scrub at places where prickles or dirt attached firmly. Trim both ends using sharp knife and rub the ends to remove sticky, off-white, fluid like oozing substance in order to lessen bitter taste of either ends. Cut into cubes, slices, etc., as you may desire.
Here are some serving tips:Its cubes are a great addition to vegetable/fruit salads.
- Indian yellow curry-cucumber (dosakayi) is used widely in a variety of curry and stew preparations in south India with added buttermilk and yogurt.
- Finely chopped fresh slices mixed with yogurt, cumin, coriander, pepper, and salt to make Indian cucumber raita.
- Cucumber juice is a very good health drink.
- Fine slices also added in delicious Spanish cold tomato and cucumber soup,gazpacho.
- Gherkin and rind of other varieties have been also used in the preparation of pickles.