Friday, December 15, 2006

Friday Food Pharmacy: Cucumber

This article is reprinted from the George Mateljan Foundation website:


The George Mateljan Foundation is a non-profit organization free of commercial influence, which provides this website for you free of charge. Our purpose is to provide you with unbiased scientific information about how nutrient-rich World's Healthiest Foods can promote vibrant health and energy and fit your personal needs and busy lifestyle.



Cucumbers

To be "cool as a cucumber" add them to your menus during the warm summer months when they are in season. Although slicing cucumbers are available year round, they are at their best from May through July.

Cucumbers are scientifically known as Cucumis sativus and belong to the same family as watermelon, zucchini, pumpkin, and other types of squash. Varieties of cucumber are grown either to be eaten fresh or to be pickled. Those that are to be eaten fresh are commonly called slicing cucumbers. Cucumbers such as gherkins that are specially cultivated to make pickles are oftentimes much smaller than slicing cucumbers.

Health Benefits

The flesh of cucumbers is primarily composed of water but also contains ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and caffeic acid, both of which help soothe skin irritations and reduce swelling. Cucumbers' hard skin is rich in fiber and contains a variety of beneficial minerals including silica, potassium and magnesium.

A Radiant Complexion

The silica in cucumber is an essential component of healthy connective tissue, which includes muscles, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, and bone. Cucumber juice is often recommended as a source of silica to improve the complexion and health of the skin, plus cucumber's high water content makes it naturally hydrating—a must for glowing skin. Cucumbers are also used topically for various types of skin problems, including swelling under the eyes and sunburn. Two compounds in cucumbers, ascorbic acid and caffeic acid, prevent water retention, which may explain why cucumbers applied topically are often helpful for swollen eyes, burns and dermatitis.

An Easy Way to Increase Your Consumption of Both Fiber and Water

Trying to get adequate dietary fiber on a daily basis is a challenge for many Americans. Adding a crunchy cool cucumber to your salads is an especially good way to increase your fiber intake because cucumber comes naturally prepackaged with the extra fluid you need when consuming more fiber. Plus, you get the added bonus of vitamin C, silica, potassium and magnesium.

High Blood Pressure? Cucumber Can Help You Cool Down

When people who participated in the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Study added foods high in potassium, magnesium and fiber, their blood pressure dropped to healthier levels. Those people in the study who ate a diet rich in these compounds in addition to the other foods on this diet (low fat dairy foods, seafood, lean meat and poultry) lowered their blood pressure by 5.5 points (systolic) over 3.0 points (diastolic).

Description

The phrase "cool as a cucumber" is not without merit. This vegetable's high water content gives it a very unique moist and cooling taste.

Cucumbers, scientifically known as Cucumis sativus, are grown to either be eaten fresh or to be pickled. Those that are to be eaten fresh are commonly called slicing cucumbers. They are cylindrical in shape and commonly range in length from about six to nine inches, although they can smaller or much larger. Their skin, which ranges in color from green to white, may either be smoothed or ridged depending upon the variety. Inside a cucumber is a very pale green flesh that is dense yet aqueous and crunchy at the same time, as well as numerous edible fleshy seeds. Some varieties, which are grown in greenhouses, are seedless, have thinner skins and are longer in length, usually between 12 and 20 inches. These varieties are often referred to as "burpless" cucumbers since people find them easier to digest than the other varieties of cucumbers.

Cucumbers that are cultivated to make pickles are oftentimes much smaller than slicing cucumbers. Gherkins are one variety of cucumbers cultivated for this purpose.

History

Cucumbers were thought to originate over 10,000 years ago in southern Asia. Early explorers and travelers introduced this vegetable to India and other parts of Asia. It was very popular in the ancient civilizations of Egypt, Greece and Rome, whose people used it not only as a food but also for its beneficial skin healing properties. Greenhouse cultivation of cucumbers was originally invented during the time of Louis XIV, who greatly appreciated this delightful vegetable. The early colonists introduced cucumbers to the United States.

While it is unknown when the pickling process was developed, researchers speculate that the gherkin variety of cucumber was developed from a plant native to Africa. During ancient times, Spain was one of the countries that was pickling cucumbers since Roman emperors were said to have imported them from this Mediterranean country.

How to Select and Store

As cucumbers are very sensitive to heat, choose ones that are displayed in refrigerated cases in the market. They should be firm, rounded at their edges, and their color should be a bright medium to dark green. Avoid cucumbers that are yellow, puffy, have sunken water-soaked areas, or are wrinkled at their tips. Thinner cucumbers will generally have less seeds than those that are thicker. While many people are used to purchasing cucumbers that have a waxed coating, it is highly recommended to choose those that are unwaxed, so the nutrient-rich skin can be eaten without consuming the wax and any chemicals trapped in it.

Cucumbers should be stored in the refrigerator where they will keep for several days. If you do not use the entire cucumber during one meal, wrap the remainder tightly in plastic or place it in a sealed container so that it does not become dried out. For maximum quality, cucumber should be used within one or two days. Cucumbers should not be left out at room temperature for too long as this will cause them to wilt and become limp.

Tips for Preparing Cucumbers:

Unwaxed cucumbers do not need to be peeled but should be washed before cutting. Waxed cucumbers should always be peeled first. Cucumbers can be sliced, diced or cut into sticks. While the seeds are edible and nutritious, some people prefer not to eat them. To easily remove them, cut the cucumber lengthwise and use the tip of a spoon to gently scoop them out.

A Few Quick Serving Ideas:

Use half-inch thick cucumber slices as petite serving "dishes" for chopped vegetable salads.

Mix diced cucumbers with sugar snap peas and mint leaves and toss with rice wine vinaigrette.

For refreshing cold gazpacho soup that takes five minutes or less to make, simply purée cucumbers, tomatoes, green peppers and onions, then add salt and pepper to taste.

Add diced cucumber to tuna fish or chicken salad recipes.

Safety

Cucumbers and Wax Coatings

Conventionally grown cucumbers, like other fragile vegetables, may be waxed to protect them from bruising during shipping. Plant, insect, animal or petroleum-based waxes may be used. Carnauba palm is the most common plant-source wax. Other compounds, such as ethyl alcohol or ethanol, are added to the waxes for consistency, milk casein (a protein linked to milk allergy) for "film formers" and soaps for flowing agents. Since you may not be able to determine the source of these waxes, this is another good reason to choose organically grown cucumbers.



Nutritional Profile

Cucumbers are a very good source of the vitamins C and the mineral molybdenum. They are also a good source of vitamin A, potassium, manganese, folate, dietary fiber and magnesium and contain the important mineral silica.





Please visit the George Mateljan Foundation website to see additional nutrition charts and find a link to cucumber recipes!


2 comments:

Geraldine said...

Heh Michelle, Just checking in, glad to see you are still writing such interesting posts. J and I are doing fine, enjoying a much needed rest!! Wishing you a great holiday season and do send me an email when you can. Huggs, G

Michelle said...

Hi, G! Glad to hear all is well with you! Yes, I'll drop you a line soon...and a card is making its way to you via snail-mail as well. :-) Have a Merry!!