Scientifically speaking, a cucumber is a fruit. According to Mama, cucumbers are vegetables. Who’s right? Both are correct! However, one category has more check marks in it than the other.
A cucumber is botanically categorized as a fruit because it produces a flower that will turn into a seed-bearing “fruit” that the plant will reproduce from.
Cucumbers are considered vegetables because they don’t have much sugar and are used in main or side dishes, not desserts.
Therefore, a cucumber is both a fruit and a vegetable, and both mama and the scientist know what they’re talking about.
Throughout this article, we’re going to break cucumbers down into a fruit or vegetable from all different perspectives. We’ll also go over some facts about cucumbers and some other stuff.
Cucumber: A Brief Introduction
Definition and Characteristics of Cucumbers
Cucumber (Cucumis sativus) is a member of the Cucurbitaceae family, which also includes melons, squash, and pumpkins. Cucumbers are a fruit that grows on a vine and is cylindrical or oblong in shape, with a smooth, thin, green skin and white, juicy flesh containing small, edible seeds. Cucumbers have a high water content, making them refreshing and hydrating, and a crisp texture that makes them popular in salads and sandwiches.
Culinary Uses of Cucumbers
Cucumbers are a versatile food item that can be used in many different ways. They are commonly eaten raw in salads, sandwiches, and as a garnish for cocktails.
Cucumber slices are also used to soothe tired eyes and reduce puffiness. They are used in pickling, where they are soaked in a vinegar and water solution with spices, creating a tangy and crunchy snack. Cucumbers are also used in many international cuisines, such as Greek tzatziki, Indian raita, and Japanese sunomono.
Also, cucumber juice can be used as the base for cool summer drinks, and spas and wellness centers often serve cucumber water.
Scientific Classification of Fruits and Vegetables
The cucumber (Cucumis Sativus) is a plant in the Cucurbitacea family that produces cucumiform fruits. Cucumiform means shaped like a cucumber, which is cylindrical with rounded edges and possibly a curved shape.
Cucurbitacea, also called cucurbits, or the gourd family, contains 965 species including squash, pumpkin, zucchini, cucumbers, and watermelon.
Cucumbers are classified as a fruit because they grow from the ovary of a flowering plant and contain seeds from that plant. Botanically, vegetables are all the other parts of the plant that are not the product of the ovary of a flowering plant.
Botanically—Is a Cucumber a Berry?
Botanically, a fruit is defined as the mature ovary of a flowering plant, usually containing seeds. By this definition, cucumbers are indeed a fruit, as they develop from the flower of the cucumber plant and contain seeds inside. In fact, cucumbers are classified as a type of berry, along with other fruits such as tomatoes and peppers.
Botanically speaking, a cucumber is a berry and a strawberry is not! The botanical definition of a berry is “a fleshy fruit without a stone pit produced from a single flower containing one ovary.”
So, cucumbers are botanically recognized as berries and so are bananas, avocados, eggplants, tomatoes, watermelon, and pumpkins. To get more specific, a cucumber is a type of berry known as a pepo and so are watermelons and pumpkins!
Culinary Categorization – Fruits & Vegetables
However, in everyday language and culinary contexts, cucumbers are generally considered a vegetable due to their savory flavor and culinary uses. They are often eaten raw in salads or as a snack, pickled for use in sandwiches and relishes, or used as a flavoring or garnish in dishes such as gazpacho and sushi.
In culinary terms, a vegetable has a more mild and savory flavor and is served as a main dish or side dish. A fruit has a sweet or tart flavor and is generally served as a dessert, snack, or juice. Texture is also considered with vegetables having a tougher texture and fruits a more delicate texture.
Horticulturally Speaking – Cucumbers a Fruit or Vegetable?
Horticulture is the practice of agriculture of plants for human use, food and non-food uses. In horticulture, the products of herbaceous annual plants are vegetables and the products of woody perennial plants are fruit.
Herbaceous annual plants grow and die back every year and have pliable stems and branches. Woody perennials have more durable stems and branches and come back year after year, like trees.
Therefore, horticulturally a cucumber is a vegetable and any product from a tree like a peach, is a fruit.
What Does The Supreme Court Say?
In 1893 there was a trial, Nix v. Hedden, in which the plaintiff tried to get out of paying an import tariff on tomatoes by alleging that tomatoes were fruit and not vegetables.
Under the Tariff Act of March 3, 1883 imported vegetables had a 10% tax placed on them and fruits came under a free clause. “Vegetables in their natural state, or in salt or brine, not specially enumerated or provided for in this act, ten percentum ad valorem,” and fruits “Fruits, green, ripe, or dried, not specially enumerated or provided for in this act.”
During the case there was testimony by two merchants that dealt in the vegetable and fruit trades and they stated common terms they used when dealing with customers and other vendors. Then the attorney of both the plaintiff and defendant read definitions from Webster’s Dictionary of various fruits and vegetables.
The defendant’s counsel then read in evidence from Webster’s Dictionary the definitions of the words “pea,” “egg plant,” “cucumber,” “squash,” and “pepper.”
The plaintiff then read in evidence from Webster’s and Worcester’s dictionaries the definitions of “potato,” “turnip,” “parsnip,” “cauliflower,” “cabbage,” “carrot,” and “bean.”
The conclusion the court came to was that tomatoes are a vegetable! The court recognized that botanically tomatoes were a fruit but under its common reference and consumption in main dishes as opposed to desserts made it a vegetable.
They also went on to reference a case from 1889 in which the plaintiff tried to get out of paying a tariff on imported beans by calling them seeds.
Fruit or Vegetable – Turning To The Dictionary
Turning to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, let’s see what we get.
According to Merriam-Webster a vegetable is “a usually herbaceous plant (such as the cabbage, bean, or potato) grown for an edible part that is usually eaten as part of a meal”.
Definition of fruit, “the usually edible reproductive body of a seed plant especially : one having a sweet pulp associated with the seed”
According to its definitions of fruit and vegetable many plants would broadly fall under both categories including beans, tomatoes, and okra; however, because it mentions fruit as being especially sweet I’d say Merriam-Webster tips the scale towards the common and culinary classification of these plant products as vegetables, including cucumbers.
Culturally speaking, almost all of us consider a cucumber a vegetable. I’ve never heard of a cucumber pie. Fruits do make their way into green leaf salads but their sweetness and tartness makes them stand out mixed in with all the veggies. If you go to the supermarket you’ll most likely see cucumbers near carrots, bell peppers and other vegetables. So I think it’s safe to say as a culture we identify cucumbers as a vegetable.
While a cucumber is classified scientifically as a fruit, it checks in in every other category as a vegetable. Sometimes mama really does know best.
In conclusion, cucumbers may be a fruit from a botanical point of view, but they are usually thought of as a vegetable in the kitchen because of their savory taste and uses. No matter how they are categorized, cucumbers continue to be a popular and useful crop that people all over the world enjoy for their refreshing taste and health benefits.
Facts About Cucumbers
Production – Cucumbers are produced in countries around the world, with China, India, and Russia as the top 3 producers and the USA as the 4th top producer. During winter months here in the states most cucumbers are imported from Mexico.
US Production – Cucumbers are mainly produced in 5 states: Wisconsin, Michigan, North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. Michigan is the #1 producer of pickling cucumbers and Florida the #1 producer of fresh slicing cucumbers.
High Water Content – Cucumbers have the highest water content of any vegetable. They are composed of 96% water!
Harvest On Time! – By harvesting cucumbers off the vine before they reach full maturity it encourages the plant to continue to produce fruit. If a cucumber is left on the vine until it reaches maturity, it will signal to the plant that it has done its job by producing a fruit with mature seeds and it can now shut down.
A cucumber has reached full maturity when it starts to yellow and grows to a big size, greater than an inch and a half in diameter. At this point the fruit is turning bitter and the seeds have grown large and hard in the middle of the fruit.
Farming Cucumbers – Farmers normally plant from 40,000 to 90,000 plants per acre, and this number can go up to 150,000 cucumber plants per acre. Most cucumbers are picked by hand because they reach maturity at different times and keep producing for 2–12 weeks, depending on the type.
Some larger operations are harvested by machine, and then the field is plowed under and possibly a second crop of cucumbers or a rotation to another crop is grown.