About 50 million tons of cucumbers are produced every year worldwide. Yet so many of us are confused about whether cucumbers are fruits or vegetables. Could they possibly be both? The answer just might be yes, so let me clarify this!
Cucumbers are botanically known as fruits. More specifically, they are considered berries because they come from flowers and are fleshy, seed-containing produce. But because cucumbers are typically cooked in savory dishes, they’re commonly known and are culinarily classified as vegetables.
When you think of vegetables, cucumbers are probably one of your first thoughts. But what if I told you that they were fruits? Possibly even berries? Let’s dive into this to learn exactly what they are!
Cucumbers are botanically labeled as fruits because they come from flowers. Additionally, since cucumbers are fleshy, pit-less fruits that contain seeds, they fall under the category of berries.
In the gourd family, Cucurbitaceae, most of the members are flowering plants that bear fruits. Cucumbers are a part of this family and are botanically considered to be fruits.
What might make it even more confusing is that cucumbers could even be considered berries.
It might sound impossible, but in the botanical world, berries are known to be fleshy, seed-bearing fruits without pits. Thus, cucumbers are not just categorized as fruits, but as berries, in particular.
These tasty fruits have served as a food source for over 3,000 years despite being extremely bitter. Much of this bitterness in the cucumbers we grow nowadays is gone. But we still choose to cook cucumbers as if they’re vegetables.
Fruits and vegetables have 2 categorical differences: 1) botanical differences and 2) culinary differences.
If cucumbers are botanically known as a fruit, then why do people still consider them to be vegetables? It can certainly be puzzling, but the truth is, cucumbers can be considered both a fruit and a vegetable—depending on which category you use.
Vegetables are harvested from the leaves, stems, and roots of plants. Fruits come from flowers and typically have seeds, making the cucumber a fruit.
Aside from growing from flowers, one of the reasons why botanists categorized cucumbers as fruits is because cucumbers have seeds.
These seeds might not seem important. But one of the key differences between fruits and vegetables in botany is that fruits are typically grown to encourage other lifeforms to eat their fruit and spread its seeds.
One exception to this is the squirting cucumber. Since most animals refuse to eat its poisonous fruit, the mature fruits have evolved to pop off their stems and stream out all their seeds at once!
Vegetables, however, are different. They are usually harvested from the rest of the plant, like their roots, stems, and leaves.
For example, garlic bulbs grow underground and are technically modified stems that we harvest. Therefore, they’re marked as vegetables.
Fruits are generally used to cook sweet dishes, unlike vegetables that are used in main meals and savory recipes. Because of this, cucumbers are known to be vegetables in the culinary world.
When it comes to cooking, vegetables are used for savory dishes while fruits are used for sweeter things. Cucumbers are often cooked with other vegetables due to their neutral and occasionally bitter taste.
Chemicals known as cucurbitacin can be found in cucumbers and are responsible for the bitter flavor in cucumbers.
But cucumbers can be used for both desserts and main dishes. A popular recipe from the 1800s uses cucumbers to create a light and sweet ice cream, and many people find it refreshing!
Most times, however, cucumbers are cooked with other vegetables and eaten in salads and sandwiches.
So when a recipe calls for a vegetable, it’s probably safe to reach for a cucumber.
The 4 most popular fruits that are related to cucumbers are 1) bottle gourds, 2) melons, 3) pumpkins, and 4) watermelons.
Now that we’ve established why cucumbers are categorized as both fruits and vegetables, it’s time to go over their relatives. Some of the following fruits might be surprising! Here are the 4 most popular fruits related to cucumbers.
Bottle gourds are related to cucumbers and are a part of the Cucurbitaceae family. Despite the fact they are botanically known as fruits, bottle gourds are commonly cooked as vegetables and used for savory meals like curry.
It’s probably no surprise that bottle gourds are a member of the gourd family. This is an interesting fruit from tropical Africa with a bottle-like shape.
Because of their unique growth, bottle gourds are often dried and used to create things like bottles, instruments, and even decorations.
Although they are technically fruits, they too are usually cooked as vegetables. Bottle gourds are regularly cooked in soups and curries. They are also a popular ingredient in Indian cuisine.
Melons are a member of the Cucurbitaceae family and are a close relative to cucumbers. Most of these fruits are sweet and have a round shape. But some melons, like Asian pickling melons, have a closer resemblance to cucumbers and are eaten like vegetables.
This wonderful fruit is native to Asia and is also part of the Cucurbitaceae family. Although they’re much more circular than cucumbers, melons are indeed a close relative.
Asian pickling melons, however, have the same cylindrical shape as cucumbers and are typically used for pickles or cooked with a spicy paste.
But there are dozens of different types of melons. Because most of them are sweet, these fruits fall into the fruits category by both botanical and culinary definitions.
Pumpkins are a popular fruit part of the Cucurbitaceae plant family. Like cucumbers, most people know pumpkins as vegetables. As such, they are often eaten in savory meals.
Pumpkins may be commonly seen as a vegetable. But they’re fruits, just like cucumbers!
Once the pumpkin fruits on the vines mature and turn orange after 90 days, they will be harvested and cooked in stews, pies, and cakes.
Some pumpkin varieties can bear fruits that weigh more than a hundred pounds each. That’s a lot of fruit to consume, so it makes sense that pumpkins are used in such a wide variety of dishes!
The seeds and flowers of pumpkins are also edible, making them an interesting garnish or snack.
Despite popular belief, watermelons are related to cucumbers and other Cucurbitaceae plant members. These fruits are commonly cultivated for their sweet taste and have been grown for many years.
Here’s a surprise for you: Watermelons are part of the gourd family! But unlike cucumbers, watermelons are classified as fruits by both botanists and chefs.
Watermelons have been grown for years and were even used as desserts during Roman times. They’re also incredibly juicy but do not contain as much water as cucumbers.
According to Clemson University, watermelons are only made of 92% water, while cucumbers contain 96% water.
Due to their popularity, there are over a thousand varieties of watermelon available. Seedless varieties have also been produced to make them easier to eat. But these cultivars are very hard to grow, making them harder to find.
Cucumbertrees grow cucumber-like produce that comes from flowers and are botanically classified as fruits. These trees are not related to Cucurbitaceae members, but rather the Magnoliaceae family.
What about cucumbertrees, you might ask?
To start, cucumbertrees are part of the Magnoliaceae family and are not at all related to cucumbers in the Cucurbitaceae family.
Cucumbertrees are not usually grown for eating purposes. These large magnolia trees are often grown in lawns and parks to provide shade rather than food.
Their green, elongated fruits look similar to cucumbers though, which explains the confusing name.
Because these fruits have seeds and come from yellow flowers, they’re botanically known as fruits rather than vegetables. Cucumbertree fruits are safe for humans to eat but are usually eaten by animals like birds and squirrels.
Having squirrel trouble? Find out the 15 Plants That Repel Squirrels.
How long do cucumbers fruit?
Cucumbers are annual plants that use their energy to produce fruits and seeds and generally grow fruits for at least a month. After bearing fruit, the plants will start to wilt and eventually die.
How many cucumber fruits are there per plant?
It depends on the plant variety, but a healthy cucumber plant can produce up to 10 or more fruits in its life before it starts to wilt. If the plant’s flowers were not pollinated, the cucumber plant may not produce as many fruits.
Can cucumbers be stored in the fridge?
Cucumbers can safely be kept in the refrigerator to stay green and crispy for about a week. Afterward, the cucumbers will start to become soft and need to be eaten immediately. Other alternative storage methods for cucumbers include pickling and canning.
Although they’re largely known as vegetables, cucumbers are botanically classified as fruits. Additionally, since cucumbers are harvested from pollinated flowers and have pitless produce that comes with seeds, botanists specifically identify cucumbers as berries.
However, due to their lack of sweet flavors and their common presence in savory dishes, cucumbers are culinarily classified as vegetables.
The most popular fruits that are related to cucumbers include bottle gourds, melons, pumpkins, and watermelons. Cucumbertrees are not related to cucumbers and belong to a different plant family.
- “Cucumis sativus” by n/a in NC State University
- “Cucumber: A Brief History” by n/a in University of Missouri
- “Cucumbers, Fruits or Vegetables, Does It Matter?” by Tammy Kelly in NC State University
- “Cucumbertree Magnolia” by n/a in University of Kentucky
- “Watermelons” by Gilbert Miller and Justin Ballew in Clemson University