by TERESA SCHIFFER
Sponsored by Farm Credit of Central Florida
When it comes to vegetables, it’s hard to find one more refreshing than the always cool cucumber. That perky crispness is the result of cucumbers being more than 95 percent water. Amazingly, that high water content has the effect of lowering the inside of this low-cal cousin of melons and gourds by as much as 20 degrees!
Why Florida Loves Cucumbers
A member of the cucurbit family, cucumbers are believed to have originated in India and were brought to the Americas by European explorers.
The crunch that cucumbers pack is the perfect snack for an autumn veggie platter on those balmy days when Florida hasn’t yet noticed the change in seasons. Since they grow best in warm weather but not the hot, humid southern summers, Florida farmers can harvest them from three separate growing seasons spanning September through March.
Florida is one of the nation’s top producers of cucumbers, and holds the lead spot when it comes to cucumbers for the fresh market, as opposed to those produced for processing into pickles. In 2021, the USDA reported that roughly 21,200 cucumbers were harvested throughout Florida, with a crop value of $94.87 million.
While this is a hefty haul of cukes, domestic cucumber production has been on a steady decline during the past 20 years, while the importation of fresh cucumbers from mainly Mexico has gradually replaced locally produced cucumbers in many of America’s grocery stores. The Mexican growing season overlaps Florida’s own cucumber growing seasons. This and the lower price of the Mexican imports has put considerable pressure on Florida growers, who have seen a drop in their profits while production costs have risen.
This is why it’s important to check the label before you buy, and choose to support Florida farmers.
What to Do With Florida-Fresh Cucumbers
Whether you do your produce shopping at a grocery store or a farmer’s market, it only takes a second to ensure you’re getting the best quality cucumbers to take home. Select those that are firm, unblemished, and a healthy light or dark green in color. Avoid any that are yellow.
Once you’ve gotten them home, keep your cukes fresh and crisp until you’re ready to use them by storing them in your refrigerator’s crisper drawer. They should be unwashed, in a perforated plastic bag that allows them to breathe. Due to their high water content, cucumbers will get mushy if frozen, as the ice crystals destroy the cell structure that keeps them crunchy. This is generally not desirable, however if you plan on making a soup or sauce with them, then mushy cucumbers may actually be preferable.
To keep your cucumbers crunchy in a salad or other dish, and to prevent them from watering down the dish excessively, you can slice the cukes into pieces and then salt them. Leave them sitting for 30 minutes in a colander, and the salt will draw out some of their moisture. Just rinse the cucumbers before using them so they don’t add too much salt to the finished dish.
Cucumbers are an excellent source of potassium and calcium, plus vitamins A, K, and C, and dietary fiber. They’re rich in protective antioxidants while strengthening bones, improving gut health, providing hydration, and they score low on the glycemic index, which means they have less effect on blood sugar levels. Enjoy cucumbers raw on their own, toss them into a salad, or make a refreshing juice or smoothie by throwing them in the blender.