Cucumbers are one of the most popular produce items grown and sold around the world.
You’re probably well acquainted with their crisp crunch and mild, fresh flavor.
However, you may wonder to which food group cucumbers belong.
This article clears up whether cucumbers are fruits or vegetables.
What is cucumber?
Formally known by their scientific name Cucumis sativus, cucumbers are a member of the gourd, or Cucurbitaceae, family of plants (
They originated in various parts of Southeast Asia but are currently grown all over the world.
Size and color can vary considerably depending on the variety, but cucumbers are best known for their long, cylindrical shape and bright green skin.
The most popular kinds are categorized into two groups: slicing cucumbers and pickling cucumbers.
As the categorical name implies, slicing cucumbers are the best ones to enjoy fresh. You’re likely to run into this variety at your local grocery store or on a salad or raw vegetable platter.
Pickling cucumbers are typically smaller and slightly less common than the slicing variety. They aren’t usually eaten fresh but instead used to make — you guessed it — pickles.
A healthy choice
Cucumbers are not a significant source of very many vitamins and minerals, as they’re mostly comprised of water (
They’re also rich in several unique plant compounds, such as cucurbitacins and cucumegastigmanes, which have potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties (
Cucumbers are low in calories, carbs, and fat, making them a viable option for almost any diet. Not to mention, they provide a very satisfying and refreshing crunch to a variety of dishes (
Cucumbers belong to the gourd family and come in several varieties, including slicing and pickling. They’re nutritious and make a tasty addition to a healthy diet.
Botanically considered fruits
Though many people think of cucumbers as vegetables, the scientific definition indicates that they’re a type of fruit.
This distinction is based primarily on the biological function of the cucumber itself.
In botany (the study of plants), fruits allow a flowering plant to reproduce. A fruit is formed from the ovary that exists within the flower and houses the seeds that will eventually grow into new plants.
Conversely, “vegetable” is a term reserved for other parts of a plant, such as the leaves, stems, or roots (5).
Cucumbers grow from flowers and contain dozens of seeds that may be used to cultivate future generations of cucumber plants. This basic function is what makes them fruits — not vegetables — according to science.
Scientifically speaking, cucumbers are fruits because they grow from the flowers of the plant and hold the seeds.
Vegetables in a culinary sense
Much of the confusion around the classification of different fruits and vegetables comes from culinary use.
The culinary definition of a fruit or vegetable is usually based on flavor profile, texture, and the best applications within a particular dish.
Fruits tend to be very sweet, tart, or tangy, and they typically have a softer, more delicate texture. They’re more likely to be used in dishes like desserts, pastries, syrups, sauces, and smoothies that call for such flavors and textures.
On the other hand, vegetables are usually tougher in texture and generally have more bitter elements in their flavor profile. They’re typically best suited for savory dishes like entrees, soups, and salads.
In terms of flavor, cucumbers fall somewhere in the middle, although they’re far more likely to be used as a vegetable. The crisp texture, mild taste of the inner flesh, and slightly bitter flavor of the skin lend themselves well to a wide variety of savory recipes.
Cucumbers can occasionally pass for fruit when paired with other, sweeter fruits like berries or melon. Otherwise, they’re better off maintaining their kitchen-appointed designation as a vegetable.
Culinary practices distinguish fruits from vegetables according to flavor and texture. Cucumber is most frequently used in savory dishes, which is how it acquired its reputation as a vegetable.
For the average person, the question of whether cucumbers are fruits or vegetables should have very little impact on how you enjoy them.
The important thing to remember is that cucumbers are versatile and nutritious with several culinary and cosmetic uses.
Try new recipes
You probably already know that cucumbers make for an excellent, easy-to-prepare addition to traditional tossed or fruit salads — and many don’t even want to imagine a world without pickles. But the culinary uses for cucumbers don’t stop there.
Shake things up by making cucumber the main focus of your salad. Try slicing it into thin strips and topping it with fresh herbs, lemon, and crumbled feta cheese. Or add Asian-style flare by using rice vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, and toasted sesame seeds.
In warmer months, enjoy cucumber in your smoothies or gazpacho for a refreshing, cool flavor enhancement. Try pureeing it with some fresh honeydew melon and freeze it to make popsicles.
Cucumber also shines in dishes like tabbouleh, yogurt dip, or fresh salsa.
Though it’s most often eaten fresh, don’t be afraid to cook with cucumber, too. It works well in stir-fries or even sautéed by itself and topped with fresh herbs and a little salt and pepper.
Have a spa day
Cucumbers not only make for a crunchy snack but also work well in homemade cosmetic and beauty applications.
Try adding cucumber to homemade face masks and hair treatments for added moisture and a fresh scent — or include it in your favorite homemade soaps, facial toners, and body mists.
You can also apply freshly sliced cucumber to sunburned skin for a natural cooling effect (
Regardless of whether its a fruit or a vegetable, cucumber is a versatile ingredient or beauty product.
The bottom line
Cucumbers are a type of edible plant that belongs to the gourd family. It’s widely cultivated and makes a nutritious addition to any diet.
Cucumber is usually considered a vegetable because of how it’s used in the culinary world. However, as it grows from flowers and contains seeds, it’s botanically a fruit.
Regardless of its fruit or vegetable status, there are countless ways to enjoy cucumber in your cooking or beauty routine.