Here’s What Makes Cucumbers Bitter—and How to Fix It

Find out the fascinating science behind that bitter cucumber taste.

No doubt you’ve experienced a bitter cucumber once or twice in your day. That unpleasant flavour can tempt you to toss the entire cuke in the compost right away. But what makes cucumbers bitter, and more importantly, if there’s no way of telling a tasty cuke from a bitter one in the produce aisle, is there any way to salvage it once you’ve brought it home?

What makes cucumbers bitter?

The actual cause of bitterness in cucumbers and other gourds, like zucchini, is the presence of a compound known as cucurbitacin. This compound is always present in cucumbers, but the levels change based on the growing process of the vegetables. The higher the level of cucurbitacin, the more bitter the cucumber.

Environmental factors have an impact on the levels of cucurbitacin. High heat and constant temperature swings, for example, can affect an entire garden’s worth of vegetables. The watering process has a major impact as well. Too little water followed by dry spells will often cause higher levels of this bitter compound.

Are bitter cucumbers harmful?

In general, no. It’s true that some cucumbers and zucchinis are so bitter, they’ve caused food poisoning. You won’t find these kinds of vegetables at your local grocery store, though. Mild bitterness, like the kind you’ll find in commercially sold vegetables, will not have a negative effect on your health.

What to do with bitter cucumbers

You can cut the skin off a bitter cucumber to soften the flavour. It won’t get rid of the taste entirely, but it will help quite a bit. And if you haven’t already, you should absolutely try milking a cucumber. It may be an old wives’ tale, but rubbing pieces of cucumber together is said to pull some of the cucurbitacin to the surface. You can also salt your cucumbers to help even out the taste.

Next, find out 14 food parts you should never throw out.

Taste of Home
Originally Published on Taste of Home