Cucumber: nutrition facts and health benefits

Cucumber

Cucumber, like the pickle, comes from a creeping vegetable plant belonging to the very large family of cucurbits, which include squash. In the old days, cucumber was picked up at maturity, while the pickle, was before it grew. Hybrids of the plant were created, one producing cucumbers, the other pickles, without needing to watch their size to harvest them. Producers took advantage at the same time to accentuate their differences, not only of size but also of texture and flavor. But they are mostly green and elongated.

Cucumber over time

Cucumber comes from India or, at least, it has been domesticated in this country. Like the other plants in the cucurbits family, its domestication dates back to the early days of agriculture. The genus Cucumis consists of two major groups, Asian and Africa, distinguished by their geographical affiliation and the number of their chromosomes. The first gave the cucumber as we know it today, as well as its variants, the second one with melon.

Rom India, cucumbers have rapidly spread to the south and east of the Himalayan chain. From there it took the direction of Greece and Italy on the one hand, and from China on the other hand, where one selected very different European varieties. It was cultivated in France in the 9th century, in England in the 14th and in America in the mid-16th century. However, until the seventeenth century the fruit will remain small.

Throughout the selections, cucumber has lost much of its bitterness caused by the presence of cucurbitacin, a high-dose toxic compound. The selection work also made it possible to obtain varieties of various shapes and colors ranging from the thin and long Japanese cucumber, garnished with longitudinal grooves, with a small lemon cucumber, round and yellow in color, through English, long, smooth and usually grown in a greenhouse, and white-skinned cucumber, small or large depending on the variety. Other species have given the West Indian pickle, the Armenian cucumber, the snake cucumber, the horned melon (with the green flesh) and the Melon Chito, which, despite their name, are consumed as cucumbers.

Health profile

Cucumber is the very example of a refreshing vegetable. Moreover, it is so often consumed believed one almost forgets it can be eaten cooked, by cooking it’s a bit like zucchini. American varieties are rather short and stocky, while the European cucumber is long and thin. The pickle, for its part, usually designates a cucumber picked before its full growth and which is used as a condiment after marinating it in vinegar. There is however a “real” pickle: it is a specific variety of cucumber, the Gherkin, whose natural size reaches only a few centimeters.

Active principles and properties

For vegetables in general

Several epidemiological studies have shown high consumption of vegetables and fruit decreases the risk of cardiovascular diseases, certain cancers and other chronic diseases. Some action mechanisms have been proposed to explain these protective effects; the presence of antioxidants in vegetables and fruits could play a role in it.

For cucumber and pickle

Antioxidants (cucumber). Antioxidants are compounds protecting the body’s cells from damage caused by free radicals. The latter are highly reactive molecules that would be involved in the development of cardiovascular diseases, certain cancers and other diseases related to aging.

Phenolic compounds. Studies have shown the presence of phenolic compounds with a slight antioxidant activity in cucumber. However, this antioxidant power is lower than other commonly consumed vegetables such as red pepper, broccoli, carrot, spinach, cabbage, yellow onion, celery, potato and lettuce. The fact remains the cucumber, due to its high availability and the frequency at which it is consumed, can contribute to the intake of antioxidants in the diet.

Peroxidase. Researchers have discovered in cucumber peel an antioxidant protein called peroxidase. Its effect on health has not yet been studied. However, cucumber peroxidase would be comparable to the peroxidase of horseradish, which is another plant. Animal research has shown horseradish peroxidase can lower cholesterol, triglycerides and blood glucose and protect certain tissues from oxydation. However, it is not known to what extent these properties can be applied to cucumber peroxidase and whether they can be transposed to the human body.

Water (cucumber). According to health authorities, more than 95% of the weight of the raw cucumber is water. This feature makes it a refreshing vegetable while having a very low calorie value, which can be an asset for people who monitor their weight.

Pickled gherkin and glycemic index

According to the results of a study published in 2001 in the journal American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the addition of pickles marinated (unsweetened) and fermented milk (yogurt) to a meal with a high glycemic index reduces the glycemic response (elevation of blood sugar after ingestion of the meal) and the glycemic index of this meal10. According to the authors of the study, the acetic acid (vinegar) of pickled gherkin would be primarily responsible for this effect. It should be noted low glycemic food consumption is conducive to better control of diabetes.

Precautions

Pickles marinated and sodium (salt)

Some people may be recommended for a limited diet of sodium due to a health problem (hypertension, heart failure, certain renal diseases, etc.). All marinated foods, including pickles, are discouraged in these situations since they are generally high in sodium. According to health authorities, 100 g pickled gherkins (about six small sweet pickles or three sour pickles or dill) contain 939 mg to 1 282 mg sodium. The reference data for nutritional experts indicate an adequate intake of sodium among healthy adult is 1 500 mg/day. These pickles therefore almost only fill sodium intake of a full day! However, there are “low sodium” pickles, which are a better choice with only 18 mg of sodium for the same portions.

Oral allergy syndrome (OAS)

Cucumber is one of the foods which can be implicated in orale allergy syndrome9. This syndrome is an allergic reaction to certain proteins of a range of fruits, vegetables and nuts. It affects some people with allergies to the environment’s pollen. This syndrome is almost always preceded by hay fever. Local symptoms are confined to the mouth, lips and throat, such as itching and burning sensations, may occur, and then usually disappear for a few minutes after consuming or touching the food in question.

In the absence of other symptoms, this reaction is not serious and the consumption of cucumbers does not have to be avoided systematically. It is recommended, however, to consult an allergist to determine the cause of the reactions to plant foods. The latter will be able to assess whether special precautions should be taken.

Culinary uses

Choice

The cucumber must be firm, have a green skin, matte (it is only shiny if it is covered with a food wax) and generally smooth (except for the pickle). The smaller it is (25 cm to 30 cm), the tastier it is.

The fruits of other species can be found in grocery stores.

Marinated pickles: lactic acid fermented pickles are much better for health than pickles marinated in vinegar. They are found in bulk in some grocery stores or canned.

Preparation

You can peel or not the cucumber, or peel it partially by removing strips from the peeler. It must be remembered, however, most nutrients are found in the skin.

If the greenhouse cucumbers are rarely bitter, those which are cultivated in the field can be occasionally bitter, depending on the variety and various climatic factors. In this case, it’s recommended to peel them and to remove the most pointed end (the one to which the stem is normally attached), because it is under the skin and at this extremity bitterness is concentrated. They can also be cut into slices that will release its water for an hour in a sieve with coarse salt. Or split them in half, remove the seeds and sprinkle them with salt. Rinse and dry with a rag.

Finally, you can remove the seeds to alleviate the flatulence associated with the consumption of the seeds. To do this, split them in the direction of length and scoop the central part using a spoon.

Organic gardening

Soil: fertile, rich in organic matter and which drips well; Avoid planting cucumbers where other plants of the cucurbits family (squash, pumpkin, melon) have grown the previous year; Choose a sunny place where the air circulates well.

Ph: Ideally, 6 to 6.5, but can tolerate lower ph.

Fertilization: bury a good amount of decomposed manure or compost before planting.

Sow four or five seeds on a meter-spaced mound. Keep the three most beautiful plants on each mound. You can also climb the seedlings instead of letting them crawl: this method has the advantage of keeping the plants healthier and giving fruit of uniform color, to exert better control of insects and diseases, to facilitate the harvest and to save space for the vegetable garden. In this case, sow one or two seeds every 20 cm to 25 cm. Provide a structure of about two meters high and a solid rope for each of the plants.

Do not sow until the beginning of June in order to avoid cold temperatures. To get a little ahead of time, you can start your plants inside three weeks before the date of planting the seedlings or to obtain plants in gardening.

Irrigation: 2.5 cm to 5 cm of water per week on average when it is not raining. When the plant lacks water, the fruit remains small, distorts or strangles. However, reduce the water supply towards the end of the season.

Mulch to conserve moisture and limit weed growth.

Harvest every two days to prevent the fruit from being too big. For the market, fruits are usually harvested when they are 14 cm to 20 cm in size and 4 cm to 5 cm in diameter, but there is nothing to prevent them from harvesting at a smaller size, they will be better.

Insects: in the family garden, the insect to be feared is the rootworm stripe: cover the platform with a light agro-textile when sowing or transplanting, in order to prevent it from landing. However, the canvas must be removed at the time of pollination, with the cucumbers needing the bees to grow. From then on, rotenone or neem can be used in case of infestation. It is important to limit the populations of rootworm because this insect is a vector of bacterial wilt, a disease for which there is no treatment in organic farming.

Diseases: the main one is powdery mildew, which usually appears at the end of August. To prevent it, from the month of July, spray every week on the leaves an extract of garlic diluted in water. To treat it, spray with elemental sulfur or a copper-based solution (Bordeaux porridge).

Note: there are dwarf pickle plants which can be grown in pots on the balcony or terrace.

Ecology and Environment

 

In Costa Rica, as well as in other tropical countries, the cucumber moth causes many damage and significant losses. The use of chemical insecticides resulting in inevitable pollution, other solutions are necessary. An experiment was therefore conducted with a product known as “effective micro-organisms”, of which there are some variants and which consists of various mixtures including dozens of species of micro-organisms whose role is not strictly speaking to fight insects, but rather to create an environment that allows the plant to strengthen itself and defend itself against them. Indeed, these small invisible animals are not available to be seen by the eyes, produce a whole battery of plant hormones, bioactive substances and antioxidants. It should be noted they play the same role in plants and in ground they do in the human body.

In this experiment, foliar applications were carried out every four days: in the control group, only water was applied in the second group, a mixture of micro-organisms diluted in water, and in the third, two combined mixtures. The results have left no doubt as to the efficacy of microorganisms to fortify cucumber plants against the borer: 80% of the fruits of the control group were infected against 36% in the second group and only 9% in the third. In addition, the treated groups were less affected by leaf stain and other diseases characteristic of humid tropical climates.

In the view of some, this approach goes beyond organic farming. Indeed, effective micro-organisms prevent the use of natural insecticides and fungicides accepted by organic certification bodies. Instead, the aim is to regenerate the useful microbial populations of the soil, to create an environment conducive to the development of plants and to help them mobilize all their resources to fight against pathogens and to develop to the maximum.

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