To avoid bitter flavored cucumbers, plant varieties that have very low levels of cucurbitacins or give cucumbers optimal growing conditions.
Cucumbers plants that are stressed during the growing season may produce fruit that is bitter flavored. Commonly a lack of water or temperatures too cold or too hot cause cucumbers to bear bitter tasting fruit.
But some cucumbers may have a slightly bitter flavor by nature. Cucumbers contain organic compounds called cucurbitacins that can cause fruit to taste bitter. Low levels of cucurbitacins are not detectable, but high levels make fruits taste bitter. Cucurbitacin levels may increase with environmental stress during the growing season.
- 3 Simple Ways to Remove Bitterness from Cucumber
- Garden Q&A: My cucumbers have a bitter taste; what’s wrong?
- Make Cucumbers Taste Better with This Cool Trick
- Cucumber bitterness explained
- What Causes Bitter Cucumber
- Why a Cucumber is Bitter
- What Causes Bitter Cucumber?
- My Cucumber is Bitter, How Can I Prevent This?
- What’s Gone Wrong?
- How to Prevent Bitter Fruit
- Good News!
Tips to Avoid Bitter Tasting Cucumbers:
To avoid bitter flavored cucumbers, plant varieties that have very low levels of cucurbitacins or give cucumbers optimal growing conditions. Here are suggestions for optimal cucumber growing and also a list of cucumbers that are usually not bitter tasting:
Site. Plant cucumbers in a sunny spot in soil rich in organic matter and well drained. Raised beds or mounds are ideal for growing cucumbers; the soil will warm early in the season and stay warm. Work several inches of aged compost and aged manure into the planting beds ahead of sowing or transplanting. During the season, sidedress plant with aged compost. Compost is nutrient rich and moisture retentive.
Give cucumbers plenty of room to grow; trellised or caged cumbers should be spaced 8 to 12 inches (20-30 cm) apart. Space hills for growing cucumbers at least 3 feet (91 cm) apart.
Cucumber Planting. Sow seed or set out cucumber transplants after all danger of frost has passed and the soil has warmed to 60°F (16°C). Frost can stress cucumbers. If there is a danger of frost once cucumbers are in the garden, protect plants with floating row covers.
Water. Give cucumbers plenty of water; do not let the soil go dry especially while they are flowering and fruiting. Water stress during the early stages of growth will cause bitter-tasting compounds to concentrate in the fruit. Water cucumbers deeply once or twice a week or place plants on a drip so that the soil stays moist but not wet. Use your finger to measure soil moisture; the soil should not be dry deeper than 3 inches below the surface.
Mulch. Once the soil has reached 70°F (21°C), reduce soil moisture evaporation by mulching plants with an organic mulch or black plastic. Mulch will also reduce weeds which compete for soil moisture and nutrients.
Protect cucumbers from high temperatures. Temperatures consistently in the mid-90s or warmer can stress cucumbers. Provide filtered afternoon shade to help cool the garden; plant cucumbers to the south of tall crops such as corn or sunchokes or place a frame and shade cloth with a 40 to 50 percent block of sunlight over cucumbers.
Cucumber Harvest. Pick cucumbers at their optimum size and pick them frequently. Cucumbers should be ready for picking 50 to 70 days after planting. When the cucumber drops its flower at the blossom end of the fruit, the fruit is ready for harvest. Cucumbers are less tasty when they grow too big.
Know the mature size of the cucumbers you are growing: about 6 to 8 inches (15-20 cm) for American slicers, 4 to 6 inches (10-15 cm) for Middle Eastern types, 3 to 5 (7-13 cm) inches for pickling types; 8 to 12 inches (20-30 cm) for Asian varieties.
Serving. Bitterness concentrates in the stem end and skin of the cucumber. Peel the fruit and cut off the stem end by an inch or two to reduce bitterness at serving time. Rinse your peeling knife after each slice so that you do not spread the bitter taste.
Cucumber varieties. Choose cucumber varieties that are not bitter flavored. The level of curcurbitacins in cucumbers varies by variety but also from plant to plant and even fruit to fruit on the same plant. (An enzyme called elaterase also present in cucumbers can reduce the amount of cucurbitacins but the amount of elaterase can vary from season to season and plant to plant as well.)
Cucumber varieties with low levels of cucurbitacins include Jazzer, Holland, Lemon, Aria, and Marketmore 97. Keep a garden journal and note varieties you have grown that were not bitter tasting.
Best cucumber growing tips at How to Grow Cucumbers.
3 Simple Ways to Remove Bitterness from Cucumber
Don’t you hate it when you bite into a bitter cucumber? This refreshing summer vegetable may look perfect for a salad or a snack, but can be deceiving as far as taste is concerned if proper care is not taken. A bite of bitter cucumber can ruin your appetite and how! Cucumber is a super healthy food ingredient belonging to the gourd family, with high water composition along with numerous minerals, vitamins and electrolytes. Known for being a classic cooling food, cucumber also helps in maintaining body’s water balance in this scorching heat. According to the book Healing Foods by DK Publishing House, the seeds and skin of the cucumber make an exceptional source of silicon, chlorophyll and bitter chemicals that aid digestion. The skin also contains the highest concentration of cholesterol lowering sterols.
What Makes the Cucumber Bitter?
One of the reasons that makes a cucumber bitter is that it belongs to the cucurbitaceous family. These plants naturally produce chemicals known as cucurbitacins, which are the main cause of making the cucumber bitter. The presence of large amount of cucurbitacins can make a person sick. The other reason, which is not genetic, is the environmental effect. The cucumber plants grown with unsteady watering schedules and left over-heated or not fertilized properly can definitely produce a bitter vegetable. The extreme fluctuation of temperatures may also be one of the reasons.
How to Remove the Bitterness from the Cucumber?
Here are some methods to help –
1. Rubbing the Ends
This is one of the most popular and commonly used methods to remove the bitterness of cucumber. All you need to do is thinly cut off the last part of the stem or blossom end of the cucumber and with that piece rub the end of the cucumber in a circular motion. While you do this, a white foam-like substance will emerge from the inside of the cucumber. This is the cucuritacin, which causes bitterness in it. Repeat the process on the other end by cutting the edge of the stem. Once you are done, wash the cucumber with water. You can definitely feel the difference.
2. Salt Sprinkling Method
The salting technique is not very popular; however, it is believed that it works wonders. Cut the cucumber into two halves lengthwise. Sprinkle some salt on both the halves from where they were cut open and rub them against each other. You will see the white foamy substance appearing on both the halves. Repeat the procedure two-three times before washing it off with water.
3. Fork Furrows Method
The fork furrow method is an easy method; all you need to do is cut the ends of the cucumber and peel off the skin. Before slicing it, take a fork and run its tines up and down lengthwise till the cucumber is covered with fork furrows. This is done to release the chemical compound in the cucumber. After repeating it for two times, wash it once before consuming.
These methods do not completely guarantee to make your cucumber bitterness-free; however, these age-old procedures have helped remove the bitterness somewhat. Do let us know if you have tried all these methods. Also, tell us if you any other ways to eliminate bitterness from cucumber.
Every now and then, you’ll bite into the end piece of a perfectly good cucumber only to get an unwelcome bitter and acrid taste. This happened to me for years, no matter how carefully I selected my cukes, although I generally had better luck with ones I got from local growers and the farmer’s market.
Oregon State explains the culprit is an organic compound called cucurbitacin, which tends to concentrate in the leaves, stems, and roots. However, it can travel to the fruit itself, but is more likely to be found at the stem end for just that reason. It rarely moves toward the center of the fruit.
No word on whether the heart-shaped varieties are less prone to bitterness, but they sure are pretty. Image via Kurt Koontz
Purdue University points out that stressors like lack of water or excessive heat can cause cucumbers to produce more bitterness. Most places recommend peeling cucumbers of their dark green skin, since other than the stem end, that’s where cucurbitacin is most likely to gather.
However, most of the nutrients in cucumbers are concentrated in the skin and the seeds. Plus, I hate losing the rich color and crisp snap the skin provides. So how else can we rid cucumbers of their bitterness without sacrificing the skin? Thankfully, there’s an old trick I learned from my Indian friend’s mom to remove the bitterness from cucumbers, and it’s super easy.
First, wash your cucumbers thoroughly. Then cut a small piece off from both the stem and blossom ends. I usually try and make the piece no larger than about half an inch.
Next, place the cut piece back on the cucumber and start rubbing the flat ends together.
Pretty soon, a white foamy substance will appear. Keep doing this for a minute or two until the cucumber stops producing fresh foam.
Then repeat on the other end. Rinse it off, and the cucumber is ready to eat. Watch the complete how-to video below from YouTuber etriliun to see this process in action.
I’m not really sure why this works. The video above speculates that the action draws out the curcurbitacins. Others say it’s just an old folk tale with no basis in science. All I know is that I’ve never eaten a bitter cucumber when I’ve remembered to perform this little trick, but I’ve bitten into many an unpleasant one when I haven’t.
What do you think? Science, folk tale, or placebo effect? Tell us you theory below in the comments, or hit up Food Hacks on Facebook or Twitter to share your thoughts.
Garden Q&A: My cucumbers have a bitter taste; what’s wrong?
Why do my cucumbers taste bitter this year?
Most cucumber plants contain a bitter compound called cucurbitacin, which can be present in the fruit as well as the foliage.
One of the most common reasons why a cucumber is bitter is due to heat stress. If a plant is stressed due to heat, it may start producing bitter cucumbers. Another possibility for what causes bitter cucumber is when a cucumber goes through alternating periods of drought and overwatering. The stress from this can cause the plant to produce bitter fruit. If the temperature fluctuates dramatically from one extreme to another over an extended period of time, the plant also may start producing bitter cucumbers.
The compound is likely to be more concentrated in the stem end than in the blossom end of the cucumber fruit. It is associated with the peel and is located both in the green peel and in the light green area just beneath the peel. It is not likely to be found in the deeper interior of the fruit.
Therefore, one practical measure the consumer can take to reduce the bitter taste is to peel the fruit. Starting at the blossom end, slice away one strip of the green peel toward the stem end, and stop about 1 inch from the stem. Wash the knife blade, and then repeat peeling in the same manner until the fruit is completely peeled. Wash the knife and cut up the fruit as needed. This prevents spreading the bitter taste.
For some cucumber eaters, the bitter taste can be accompanied by a digestive discomfort known as a burp. Some of the newer cultivars of cucumbers do not have the bitter compound and, thus, no burp. So, some seed companies called their bitter-free cucumbers “burpless.”
There are some tall trees in my yard that need to be cut back. I was told that topping a tree is a bad idea. Why is that?
Topping is the indiscriminate cutting of tree branches to stubs or lateral branches that are not large enough to assume the terminal role.
Topping won’t work to keep trees small. After a deciduous tree is topped, its growth rate increases. It grows back rapidly in an attempt to replace its missing leaf area.
It’s expensive. A topped tree must be done and re-done every few years and eventually must be removed when it dies or the owner gives up.
The freshly sawed-off tree limbs are reminiscent of arm or leg amputations. And the freshly-sawed look is just the beginning of the eyesore; the worst is yet to come, as the tree regrows a witch’s broom of ugly, straight suckers and sprouts.
Sometimes the best solution is to remove the tree and replace it with a species that is more appropriate for the site.
Topping creates a hazardous tree in at least the following four ways:
• Topping opens the tree up to an invasion of rotting organisms. A tree can defend itself from rot when side branches are removed, but it has a hard time walling off the pervasive rot from topping. Rotted individual limbs – or the entire tree – may fail as a result, often years later.
• Very simply, a tree’s leaves manufacture its food. Repeated removal of the tree’s leaves – its food source – literally starves the tree.
The root needs the carbohydrate that the leaves provide. Without the “food,” the roots start relying on stored reserves. Some roots ultimately die. This makes it susceptible to secondary diseases such as root rot, a common cause of failing trees.
• New limbs made from the sucker or shoot regrowth are weakly attached and break easily in wind storms.
A regrown limb never has the structural integrity of the original.
• The thick regrowth of suckers or sprouts resulting from topping make the tree top-heavy and more likely to catch the wind. This increases the chance of being blown down in a storm.
Selectively-thinned trees allow the wind to pass through the branches.
For further information go to: www.treesaregood.com/treecare/topping.aspx.
Tom Bruton is a master gardener with the Duval County Extension Service and the University of Florida/IFAS.
Here’s something that happened to me recently—perhaps you can relate. I was eating a salad with a colleague when I took a bite out of a cucumber. The taste was so bitter and so, well, vile, that I immediately spit it out into my napkin.
A food has to taste pretty terrible for a reasonably polite adult to spit their food out like a four-year-old who’s been made to taste a piece of chicken flavored with visible specks of parsley. (Parsley: the enemy of four-year-olds everywhere.) But my actions are justified by science.
Cucumbers—and other members of the pumpkin and gourd family—produce a compound called cucurbitacins that can impart a bitter taste. The amount of cucurbitacins a cucumber contains is increased when the plant faces adverse growing conditions, like a lack of water or excessive heat. (Basically, stress makes cucumbers bitter. Which is not all that different than what happens with people.)
The development of cucurbitacins is an adaptive trait, explains Jonathan Deutsch, a professor of culinary arts and food science at Drexel University. “Bitterness is a good defense against animals that might eat them—including humans,” he says. “I can see evidence of this in my own backyard garden—I see two squirrel-eaten green tomatoes on the ground and some bug holes through my sweet basil leaves, but the cucumbers, and, not coincidentally, hot peppers, are looking great!”
Fortunately, the predator-foiling cucurbitacins tend to gather in the peel and ends of a cucumber, and therefore should be easy to avoid: just don’t eat the peel and ends.
However, there’s one more key step—something I learned years ago from an episode of “Two Hot Tamales”—to avoiding that bitter cucumber taste: Always cut the ends off of cucumbers before you peel them. Fail to do this, and each time you scrape the peeler down the cucumber’s length you’ll spread bitter cucurbitacins to the rest of the vegetable.
But if you take two seconds to slice those terrible-tasting ends off before peeling (about a 1/2-inch off each end) you’ll keep the bitterness contained, thereby keeping your cuke slices fresh and sweet, and—most importantly—avoiding a potentially embarrassing social faux pas.
Make Cucumbers Taste Better with This Cool Trick
A perfect cucumber is wonderfully refreshing but we’re sure you must have come across cucumbers in the past that pack that somewhat bitter flavour. Usually a chef will balance this out with some salt but we’ve just come across a video that suggests a quick rub of a cucumber at the ends will help to reduce bitterness in the ingredient.
It sounds crazy and the video below of someone rubbing away at their cucumber also looks crazy, but apparently the idea is to release the compound cucurbitacin which is found inside a number of ingredients including cucumber, melon and squash.
Cucurbitacin concentrates at the stems and ends of cucumbers, just cutting off the ends will help remove most of the bitter taste but the video bellow suggests rubbing the ends to eventually release a white foam that contains the cucurbitacins.
Appliance of science remains slim on this idea but people in the comments online swear by the method, it also seems that it’s a widely used technique when preparing cucumbers in India.
What do you think? Does it work? Let us know on Facebook and leave the jokes, we’ve heard them all.
Cucumber bitterness explained
CORVALLIS, Ore. – Why are some cucumbers bitter, while others are not?
A natural organic compound called cucurbitacin is the culprit, according to Oregon State University vegetable breeder Jim Myers.
“Wild cucumbers contain relatively large concentrations of cucurbitacin and are highly bitter,” he said, “while their domestic cousins we grow in the garden and buy in the store, tend to have less but varying amounts of the bitter compound.”
Cucurbitacin is found mainly in the vegetative parts of the plant such as leaves, stems and roots. On occasion and to a lesser degree, it spreads to the fruit. It doesn’t accumulate evenly within each cuke, however, and can vary in concentration from one fruit to another.
When harvesting slicing cucumbers, take note: The bitter compound is likely to be more concentrated in the stem end than in the blossom end of the cucumber. It is also more prevalent in the peel and in the light green area just beneath the peel – and less likely to be found in the deeper interior of the fruit.
Vegetable scientists have several explanations about why some cucumbers become more bitter than others. Cucumbers picked from vines growing under some type of stress, such as lack of water, are often somewhat bitter. Misshapen fruits are more likely to be bitter than are the well-shaped fruits. More complaints come about bitter cucumbers grown during cool periods than during warm times. Fertilizers, plant spacing and irrigation frequency may also affect bitterness.
James M. Stephens, vegetable crops professor at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, came up with a method of peeling a cucumber to avoid serving bitter-tasting cukes.
Start peeling at the blossom end of the fruit. Slice away one strip of the green peel toward the stem end and stop about one inch from the stem. Then wash off the knife blade and repeat peeling from blossom to stem end until the fruit is peeled. Rinse the knife again and cut up the cucumber as needed.
Bitterness seems to vary with the type of cucumber grown. But you can expect some degree of bitterness from time to time in most any variety of cucumber commonly grown, Myers said.
What Causes Bitter Cucumber
Cucumbers fresh from the garden are a treat, but occasionally, a gardener bites into a homegrown cucumber and thinks, “My cucumber is bitter, why?” Understanding what causes bitter cucumber can help to prevent having bitter cucumbers.
Why a Cucumber is Bitter
Cucumbers are part of the Cucurbit family, along with squash and melons. These plants naturally produce chemicals called cucurbitacins, which are very bitter, and in large quantities can make a person ill. Most of the time, these chemicals are confined to the leaves and stem of the plant, but can work their way into the fruit of the plant in certain conditions causing bitter cucumbers.
What Causes Bitter Cucumber?
Too hot – One of the most common reasons why a cucumber is bitter is due to heat stress. If a plant is stressed due to heat, it may start producing bitter cucumbers.
Uneven watering – Another possibility for what causes bitter cucumber is if a cucumber goes through alternating periods of drought and overwatering; the stress can cause the plant to produce bitter fruit.
Temperature fluctuations – If the temperature fluctuates dramatically from one extreme to another over an extended period of time, the plant may start producing bitter cucumbers.
Heredity – Perhaps the most frustrating reason why a cucumber is bitter is simple genetics; there is a recessive trait that can cause a plant to produce bitter fruit from the start. You may plant seeds from the same packet and treat them all the same, only to discover one of the plants produces bitter cucumbers.
My Cucumber is Bitter, How Can I Prevent This?
In order to prevent bitter fruit, address what causes bitter cucumber fruit in the first place.
Always use best practices when it comes to raising your cucumber. Keep cucumbers at an even temperature, which means that you should be planting the cucumber so that it gets the right kind of sun for your climate (sunnier areas in cool climates, morning and afternoon sun only in hotter climates). Water evenly and regularly, especially in times of drought.
Unfortunately, once a cucumber plant starts to produce bitter fruit, it will most likely continue to produce bitter cucumbers. You should remove the plant and start over.
The anticipation of that first bite as the new cucumbers begin to develop. Followed by the huge disappointment and surprise of a disgustingly bitter taste. Judging by some of the customer feedback received lately I’m not the only one to have ditched my long-awaited yet bitter cucumbers on the compost heap.
Like squash and melons cucumbers belong to the Cucurbit family. As the name would suggest, these plants produce the chemical cucurbitacin. Normally confined to the leaves and stems, cucurbitacins can work themselves into the fruit. And the result is pretty nasty – a strong bitter taste!
What’s Gone Wrong?
As always there is no straightforward answer. I’m told that’s what makes gardening so much fun! Or maybe it’s the challenge that keeps us going, year after year.
Stress is likely to be the main cause. So, look to the growing conditions:
– Has the plant been overwatered?
– Has the plant been underwatered and left to dry out and then flooded?
– Is the compost good quality and has the plant been fed?
– Has the plant been too hot?
– Has the weather been too cold, or, has it fluctuated with hot days and cold nights?
Another cause of bitter cucumbers is the presence of male flowers. The females do very well on their own (sound familiar?). So, any male flowers need to be swiftly removed. And how do you tell the difference? The male flower will just have a long stem whereas with the female a fruit will be forming behind the flower.
How to Prevent Bitter Fruit
The simple answer is to remove all stress from the plant, thus providing the very best growing conditions. And these are:
1) Watering regularly. Little and often is best.
2) Keeping the atmosphere humid. Damping down the greenhouse floor with a hose pipe will help as will misting the plant.
3) Feeding the plant as soon as flowers form. Tomato feed is OK but for the best results select a feed that is high in nitrogen.
4) Maintaining an even temperature.
Growing an all female variety, such as F1 Bella, will help guard against bitter fruits but the growing conditions do still need to be right. And if you like growing the older varieties then just remember to nip out those male flowers. Trouble makers, the lot of them. 😊
The cucurbitacins will be mainly in the skin so peeling the fruits will make them edible. The downside to this being that most of the healthy stuff is of course in the skin.
Another, and probably better, solution is to slice off both ends. Now rub the removed end against the exposed flesh and keep rubbing until white foam appears. Keep going until the foaming stops and then do the same at the other end. Give the cucumber a quick wash and enjoy. The bitterness has been rubbed away.
So, step away from the compost heap with those bitter cucumbers and get slicing and rubbing. I’ve tried it – it works!
If you have ever bitten into a bitter cucumber, you know it’s not something you want to do again. If you grow your own cukes, a few simple techniques will help you avoid bitter fruit.
Why Cucumbers Taste Bitter
Cucumbers contain the natural compound cucurbitacin, which causes bitterness. Bitterness varies by variety of cucumber and by temperatures during the growing season.
Uneven watering increases bitterness, as does cool weather. Fertilization, plant spacing, and watering may also affect bitterness, although plant scientists have not found consistent cause and effect.
Growing Great Cucumbers
Plant cucumber varieties that are less bitter. Studies in eastern Washington State found that Burpee Pickler produces four times as much bitter fruit as National Pickling.
Plant cucumbers in warm soil in warm, sunny locations. Since misshapen fruit tend to be more bitter, and uneven watering contributes to misshapen fruit, it’s important to provide adequate and consistent irrigation.
Mulching helps maintain even soil moisture. Inadequate nutrient levels also contribute to uneven growth, so ample fertilization can help prevent bitterness. A soil test can provide guidance on the fertilizer and amendments your soil needs.
Peel Away the Cucumber Bitterness
Bitterness varies in the different parts of a cucumber. The stem end, the peel, and the light green area just under the peel have higher concentrations of the bitter compound than the interior flesh. While not everyone agrees about this, some gardeners say you can peel away the bitterness this way:
* Start at the blossom end of the fruit.
* Slice off one strip of peel, stopping about one inch from the stem end.
* Wash the knife, then continue slicing off strips until the cuke is completely peeled.
* Wash the knife again before cutting up the cucumber.
Want to learn more about preventing bitter cucumbers?
The following extension websites have excellent information about bitterness in cucumbers and how to prevent it. Since local growing conditions affect bitterness, it’s a good idea to check with your extension service about the best varieties and growing methods for your area.
To find the nearest extension office, go to The National Institute of Food and Agriculture website.
Cucumber Bitterness Explained from Oregon State University Extension Service
What Makes My Cucumbers Taste Bitter? from NC Cooperative Extension
Creative Commons Flickr photo courtesy of David Davies