Any food lover has probably wondered the same thing at some point: are pickles and cucumber the same?
The whole debate for pickles vs cucumbers isn’t a new one, since pickled foods have been around for centuries.
However, with so many people who love pickles now, a lot of people want to know the answer!
In short, pickles and cucumber are the same thing! Pickles are just pickled cucumbers, but they come from the same fruit.
The only difference is the process they undergo to be seasoned into a pickle.
Cucumbers – Are They Fruits Or Vegetables?
You might have grown up thinking that cucumbers are vegetables, but they’re actually a fruit!
Botanically, fruits develop from a plant’s flower, whereas various other parts of the plant are classified as vegetables.
Fruits have seeds in or on them, while vegetables can be made up of leaves, stems, and roots.
This can be a confusing concept when you look at a wide range of fruits and vegetables on the market.
Technically, rhubarb is actually a vegetable, while tomatoes, pumpkins, string beans, and even okra and fruits!
Cucumbers come from the cucurbitaceae or gourd family. In this family, there are 98 genera, and almost 1,000 food species of both ornamental and food plants.
In this family, you can find the various types of cucumbers, but also gourds, squashes, pumpkins, and melons.
All these fruits grow from vines. Depending on the cucumber species, sizes, colors, and textures can vary.
Most cucumbers that we grow can reach sizes of two or more feet, but they should be harvested long before they reach this size.
The cucumbers we buy from stores are typically around a foot long or even smaller.
When a cucumber grows too large, it becomes bitter and unpleasant. Edible cucumbers are broadly categorized into two groups: pickling and slicing cucumbers.
One of the most common cucumber types is the garden cucumber, which is the one we typically use in our salads.
These are slicing cucumbers, and are sold fresh. Garden cucumbers are sold unripe, which prevents them from becoming bitter and gross.
There are a number of cucumbers that are specifically grown for pickling purposes.
Some of the best and most popular types include the Boston Pickling, Parisian, Boothby’s Blond, Supremo, Bushy, and Calypso.
Some of these cucumber types date back hundreds of years, showing how popular they were even back then!
Pickling cucumbers should have medium to thick skin in order for them to maintain shape during the pickling process. Fruits with thin skins often just fall apart and become goo when pickled!
It should be noted that wild cucumbers are not classed in either group, because they aren’t edible. So, be careful if you see wild cukes out there, and don’t try to eat them!
Understanding The Concept Of Pickling
Pickling is a form of food preservation. Historically, food has been pickled as far back as 2030 BC!
Cucumbers were grown in India and pickled in the Tigris Valley. Of course, back then they had a different name for it.
Other sources state that pickles were an ancient Mesopotamian invention and could be dated back to 2400 BC. No one knows for sure, but whichever the case is, pickles certainly aren’t a new concept.
There are a number of different kinds of pickling techniques that we use today. Some methods involve the use of brine (salty water), while others use vinegar.
In many cases, additional seasonings such as sugar, salt, or garlic are added to enhance the delicious flavor. This gives pickles a wide array of flavors, so there are plenty of options to choose from.
Are There Differences Between Cucumbers Pickled In Vinegar Vs Brine?
If you want sour pickles, then brined pickles are perfect for you! You should have thought that the vinegar pickles are sour (because vinegar, you know?) but that isn’t the case!
Well, they are sour as well (all pickles are sour), but not like you might expect.
Slow fermentation happens in brined pickles as the naturally occurring bacteria consume the sugars present.
These sugars can be from the added sugars in the jar, or the sugars from the cucumber itself. Compared to pickled in vinegar, brined pickles tend to be less crispy, and they take longer to ferment.
Fun fact – did you know that the nutritional value of pickles are actually enhanced because of this process? This means that pickles are more nutritional than regular raw cucumbers!
Types Of Pickling Methods
There are a number of great pickling methods that you can use to ferment your cucumbers. We will take a look at these in the sections below.
Pickling Cucumbers In Vinegar
Sometimes referred to as “refrigerator pickles”, this is one of the most simple methods of pickling!
What’s better is that this method doesn’t take a long time at all, so you can have your pickles sooner than you think!
The time is cut down because of the acidity of the vinegar. This prevents any microorganisms from accessing the fruit, and the cucumber stays fresh. As a result, the pickle is super crunchy and full of flavor.
You can add any seasoning you want when using this method. Popular options include things like various herbs such as dill, garlic, and salt.
For the best results, white vinegar is the ideal option. This vinegar won’t change the color of the cucumber, and it won’t negatively impact the texture or flavor.
If you choose to use salt for some seasoning, be sure to use one that won’t clump together. Coarse sea salt is usually a pretty good option for this.
Picking Cucumbers With Salt
Using salt to preserve and pickle food is actually one of the oldest methods of food preservation! It’s also a very healthy option as there is usually plenty of healthy bacteria present, which can help us.
This option is also a popular option since there are traditionally only two ingredients needed (besides the cucumbers) – salt and water!
The brine water naturally contains bacteria, which will neutralize all the sugars present. This includes added sugars, and the sugars from the fruit.
In this method, the fermentation process takes a lot longer than it does for the vinegar. This slowly makes your pickles more and more sour and gives them a deliciously unique flavor.
Kosher Dill Pickles
These pickles are a lot like the ones mentioned above, except the dill is a critical component of the whole piece.
The “kosher” part of the name comes from Jewish law. This refers to food products that are “pure”.
In other words, when regarding cucumbers or pickles, these products must not have come into contact with meat or dairy products during the production.
It’s essentially just a rule regarding proper production to ensure that it’s suitable for consumption by Jewish individuals.
Thankfully, the pickling process is usually a pretty safe bet, as meat or dairy doesn’t play a part.
Since pickled food is widely loved in the Jewish culture, it’s important to ensure that these foods are properly prepared.
These pickles are often made using a brine solution, and garlic and dill gets added to the mix. These give the pickles a strong and delicious flavor.
At the store, you can usually buy either full-four or half-sour dill pickles. The half-sour pickles are crispier and brighter than the whole-sour ones, so be on the lookout for that!
Gherkins Vs Baby Pickles – Are There Any Differences?
Yes and no. Both gherkins and baby pickles still come from cucumbers, but they are only different in name and maturity.
All gherkins are pickles, but pickles aren’t necessarily gherkins.
As the name suggests, baby pickles are immature cucumbers that have been pickled. These are usually full of a very pleasant and distinctive flavor. Gherkins are also actually a pickled baby cucumber!
There is no real difference between them! In reality, their names can be used interchangeably, but it all comes down to where you are from.
In North America, gherkins are specific types of pickled baby cucumber.
It’s a confusing topic, but you can assume that a gherkin and baby pickles are the same thing because they are either immature or miniature cucumbers that have been pickled.
Cucumbers Pickled In Salt Vs Vinegar
There aren’t any massive differences between cucumber pickled in brine water vs cucumbers pickled in vinegar.
Both products get pickled, and they get similar results. However, their flavors do vary, and their textures can change, too.
As we covered before, cucumbers that are pickled in brine take a lot longer to pickle compared to those processed in vinegar.
Refrigerator (vinegar) pickles are more crispy than brine pickles, and often have a distinct sweeter flavor. Brine pickles are notoriously sour, and are often less crispy.
In terms of nutritional information, there are minor changes depending on the process used.
However, these changes are minimal, and shouldn’t really impact your choice of which one to buy unless you are particularly concerned about salt intake.
Cucumbers are known to make whoever ingests them burp.
This is because of the cucurbitacin compound found in them, which causes gases to form in the stomach. The compound is also responsible for giving cucumbers a bitter taste.
Burpless cucumbers don’t contain this compound! It’s like magic, but science can easily explain this.
With age, cucumbers produce more cucurbitacin – this makes them more bitter and burpy. So, in order to get “burpless” cucumbers, the fruits have to be harvested when they are young and unripe.
If you were to harvest a ripe cucumber, the high levels of cucurbitacin found in the stems, roots, and leaves, would make its way to the fruit.
If you have a problem with gas and bloating, there are a few things you can try to reduce cucurbitacin from being an issue for you:
- Peel the cucumber before eating it – you can use a vegetable peeler or just a knife to carefully do this. Because a lot of the compound is found in the skin of the fruit, peeling it should help reduce unwanted gas and bloating.
- Try to stick to young or immature cucumbers – in other words, you may not want to get the largest cucumber you can find at the store, but the smallest ones. The younger the cucumber, the less cucurbitacin will be present!
- Look for English cucumbers – these cucumbers have very thin skin, and therefore typically contain less cucurbitacin compared to other varieties. Not only that, but these cucumbers are also the sweetest variety you can get, so it’s a win-win!
- Make sure you store your unripened cucumber properly – remember, you don’t want a ripe cucumber! To avoid this fate, wrap your fresh cucumber up in plastic wrap and keep it in an airtight container if possible. This will help it keep for as long as possible and prevent it from going bitter and mushy.
- Store your cucumbers smartly – keep your cucumbers away from other products such as bananas, avocados, melons, and tomatoes. The ethylene gas that these fruits emit will cause the cucumber to ripen very quickly, making it go soft and bitter.
The Benefit Of Eating Cucumbers
Cucumbers are low in calories, and high in both water and fiber content. In fact, cucumbers are made up of about 96% water!
They have the highest water content of any kind of food. Not only that, but they have great vitamins such as vitamin K, B, and C.
You will also get a healthy dose of minerals such as phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, and copper – all of which are necessary for healthy functioning.
Antioxidants are also present in cucumbers, so these fruits go a long way to keeping you healthy!
There are a number of possible health benefits to eating cucumber on a regular basis. These include the following (as found on Healthline):
- Cucumbers can help you have regular bowel movements due to the high fiber content of the fruit.
- These fruits might aid in weight loss as they are low in calories and have a number of beneficial vitamins and minerals.
- Cucumbers will help you stay hydrated. Since cucumbers are made up of a whipping 96% water, they can keep you healthy and hydrated, which will make you feel and look healthier. Dehydration is a serious issue!
- They might help lower blood sugar levels and even help with complications from diabetes.
Nutritional Differences Between Pickles And Cucumbers
Since pickles are made from cucumbers, there is little to no difference in calories between the two.
What can impact the calories is what gets added to the mixture when a pickle is being processed. Adding sugars or other carb-heavy ingredients will result in a higher calorie count.
However, even this calorie count is minimal and isn’t something to be worried about.
More nutrients are added to the pickles as they are processed. The only concerning element is the amount of sodium (salt) that gets added when pickles are processed.
Besides this, there is little to comment on regarding the nutritional differences between pickles and regular cucumbers.
So, pickles are cucumbers! Although there are many cucumber varieties, they are broadly categorized into two groups – pickling and slicing varieties.
Pickling varieties of cucumbers are usually much smaller and picked sooner than the slicing varieties. However, it is possible for some slicing varieties to be pickled.
In a world full of so many pickle lovers, it always helps to understand more about some of the most popular foods. Now get out there and crunch down on those pickles!
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