You might not know it, but there are dozens and dozens of different cucumber varieties, ranging from the remarkably solid Persian cucumber, all the way to the Armenian cucumber (which is confusingly a melon in disguise). But what makes the English cucumber the crowd favorite is that it has been specially engineered to be the most palatable cucumber we can make.
If you haven’t tried many different cucumbers, it might surprise you to learn that most natural growing varieties possess a tough and durable outer layer of skin that can make it hard to enjoy without some means of softening it, such as a gentle level of heat. In contrast, the English cucumber has been specifically bred to have a very thin outer layer, as well as to almost eliminate the seedy interior of other cucumber varieties.
What Are English Cucumbers?
Officially a type of burpless/seedless cucumber, the English cucumber is the product of decades of breeding efforts to produce a more appetizing cucumber variant that is easier to eat and even tastes sweeter than other cucumbers. They are grown in hothouses, which essentially function as a large greenhouse, allowing for the growth of plants, fruit, and vegetables that would otherwise need much hotter conditions than those outside of the facility.
One of the main benefits of using an English cucumber in cooking comes down to their thinner skin. The fact that the skin does not need to be peeled before use opens up a large variety of options for texture, appearance, and even taste. Speaking of taste, this variant of cucumber is sweeter than naturally found varieties and can lead to excellent pickling results, with the finished pickle tasting very much like a cornichon, only much bigger.
This edible skin is also perfect for sushi dishes, as the whole, peeled skin of a cucumber is a common garnish or wrapper for many fish-based dishes.
How Do You Store English Cucumbers?
Due to their thinner skin, English cucumbers can be a little fickle when it comes to keeping them fresh and healthy for your next sandwich, but there are a few ways to make sure you get the most life you can out of them. First of all, if you have just bought one and don’t plan on using it straight away, then do not remove the plastic wrapper, as this will keep it far fresher than any DIY method.
If you have already broken the seal, or it arrived broken, then wrapping it tightly in plastic wrap is the best way to stop air exposure and slow down the deterioration. Do not pre-slice your cucumber ahead of time if you are planning on storing it for longer than 12 hours, as slicing the cucumber spoils it far more rapidly.
When it comes to freezing cucumber, you shouldn’t – unless you have a good reason or use case that requires it. Since an English cucumber is primarily water, the freezing process will cause an excessive amount of expansion when the liquid freezes and can ruin the texture of the cucumber once defrosted. One way to mitigate this level of damage is to slice, and then rapidly (and I really mean, rapidly!) freeze the slices on a flat tray to try and emulate flash-freezing techniques.
There will still be some degradation in the texture, but compared to freezing a whole cucumber it will be negligible.
How can I tell the difference between an English cucumber and other types?
Depending on where you are in the world, this can be a little tricky. However, one of the best ways to spot an English cucumber in the grocery aisle is to look for the telltale plastic wrapping. This plastic wrapping is added to prevent the cucumber from being easily penetrated, which would rapidly start the deterioration process.
Failing this, trying to feel the thickness and toughness of the skin is your best bet at finding a close relative to the English cucumber. Try to find one that feels like it has very thin, delicate skin.
Can I grow my own English cucumbers?
Unfortunately, unless you are an avid green thumb with a greenhouse and heating equipment, it is very unlikely that you can grow English cucumbers at home. They require special conditions to grow, and since they are specially bred for sale, you would struggle to obtain any seeds to start the process
How To Pick The Best Cucumber
The telltale signs of a bad cucumber are mushy tips, which happen when the cucumber starts to spoil. At home, you can cut off the softer, less desirable piece and use it before it continues to worsen, but in a store, once the damage is done, you don’t have long before it will be time to throw it out.
This mushy texture can appear anywhere along the length of the cucumber too, so you should also check the entire length of each to make sure that you’re getting the best quality you can.