Where did the expression “cool as a cucumber” come from? Cucumbers aren’t inherently cooler than a squash or a tomato, but for some reason, the cold standard is a dark green, heat-loving vegetable.
Cucumbers definitely have some cooling properties because they have such a high-water content they can be extremely refreshing. At the least, since they’re generally served raw, they don’t involve heating up the kitchen, and that’s a big selling point by mid-August.
Ironically, cucumbers thrive in hot weather, and fresh cucumbers are plentiful at stores and farmers’ markets right now. Cucumbers have many varieties, but cucumbers basically have three main types: slicing cucumbers, which are the dark green, hefty kind that are the most plentiful; pickling cucumbers, a smaller vegetable with lighter or streaky skin, and English cucumbers, a longer, thinner type found in stores.
Many cooks prefer English cucumbers because they have a thinner skin and don’t have to be peeled. That thin skin lets the water inside them evaporate. However, they’re sold wrapped in protective plastic to keep their moisture in.
Even though slicer cucumbers have a thicker skin, they’re prone to water loss, too, so growers resort to sealing their skins with a thin coat of edible wax. According to the College of Food Science at Ohio State University, the wax is safe to eat. “Although ‘petroleum’ and ‘shellac’ are substances we don’t normally consume, the amount used is very small: A piece of waxed produce has only a drop or two of the microscopic coating,” an OSU bulletin advises.
While the wax is a food-grade product and edible, many people prefer to peel sliced cucumbers to avoid it. Buying direct from producers, such as at the farmers market, is another way to avoid the wax.
Organic cucumbers are less likely to be coated, since only non-edible parts of produce can be waxed and still get the “organic” designation, and cucumber peel is considered edible. The small (3-4 inch long) snack-sized cucumbers marketed as “cocktail cucumbers” or under brand names such as CuteCumbers are also unwaxed because they are sold in resealable plastic bags, which keeps them from drying out. The cocktail cucumbers are popular for snacking, as they are the crispest of all cucumber varieties.
The mild flavor of all cucumbers pairs well with other vegetables and even fruits. English cucumbers and slicers can be used interchangeably in most recipes, with some or all of the green skin peeled off slicers.
Peaches and cucumbers may seem like an unlikely duo, but the combination of sweet fruit with crunchy cucumber works well, especially when brought together with roasted pepitas. Since cucumbers grow almost anywhere there’s plenty of heat and sunshine, they’re part of many cuisines, from Mediterranean to Indian and Asian. Cucumbers can be the base of a Mediterranean salad full of tomatoes, olives and feta cheese.
One Asian-inspired recipe creates a salad similar to the cold-noodle salads of Vietnam by using a spiralizer to make “noodles” from cucumbers, dressed with the traditional toppings of cilantro and chopped peanuts.