Crisp, crunchy cucumbers are one of the most popular produce items internationally grown and sold, with Americans alone eating 12 pounds of cucumbers per person per year, on average. They're available year-round, affordable and delicious in everything from sandwiches to salads.
However, cucumbers are hard to classify. You may assume they're a vegetable because of their mild, fresh flavor, appearance (they sure look a lot like zucchini) and use in recipes. But are cucumbers actually a fruit?
Here we settle this once and for all: are cucumbers a fruit or a vegetable?
What is a Cucumber?
Members of the gourd family of plants, cucumbers originated across Southeast Asia. Currently, they are one of the most accessible types of produce, as they can be grown around the world.
Cucumbers are most commonly known for their long body, cylindrical shape and bright green color. But with nearly 100 varieties, they can vary widely in shape, size and color.
The most common ways to prepare cucumbers include slicing, to create a base for a refreshing salad or layering on a sandwich, and pickling with fresh spices like dill. Various food cultures, including Vietnamese, Korean, Thai and regional Indian cuisines also cook cucumbers into stir-fries, steaming soups and curries.
Here's the nutrition breakdown for a half-cup serving of sliced, raw cucumber:
0 grams total fat
1 milligram sodium
2 grams carbohydrates
0 grams sugar
0 grams protein
Since they are 96% water, cucumbers can help keep you hydrated. And while they're not a standout source of vitamins and minerals, they do offer antioxidants, like cucurbitacins and cucumegastigmanes, that may help reduce inflammation.
Botanically, Cucumbers Are Fruits
The botanical definition, which focuses on physiological elements like the structure and organization of the plant, classifies the cucumber as a fruit. A botanist would explain that fruits grow from the ovary of a flowering plant, and they possess seeds. Because cucumbers have seeds in the middle and grow from the flower of a cucumber plant, they are botanically a fruit.
Botanical vegetables may be other edible structures of a plant, such as the leaves, stems and roots, and they do not have seeds. Examples of botanical vegetables include lettuce, carrots, asparagus and broccoli.
Culinarily, Cucumbers Are Vegetables
If you were to ask a chef or dietitian how they would categorize a cucumber, chances are they will say that cucumbers are a vegetable. This is due to the cucumber's appearance, texture and flavor. While vegetables are less sweet, commonly prepared in savory meals and usually have a tougher texture, typically fruits are the opposite: soft, sweeter and more often added to breakfasts and desserts.
So while botanically, cucumbers are a fruit, culinarily, they can be classified as a vegetable.
So, are cucumbers a fruit or a vegetable? The answer is: both!
Although they are botanically classified as a fruit, cucumbers are overwhelmingly prepared in savory ways like in salads or as pickles, so it's fair to say that they are vegetables in the culinary world. Either way, cucumbers are a hydrating and tasty ingredient that can be beneficial to your health.
Check out our Healthy Cucumber Recipes if you're looking to incorporate a fruit (or vegetable!) into your next meal.