Is a Cucumber a Fruit or a Vegetable and Why? | Eufic

Most of us are familiar with cucumbers, they are one of the most popular agricultural products around the world, but when it comes down to it, is the humble cucumber a fruit or a vegetable?

Look no further, because the answer is that cucumbers are technically both. while fruits and vegetables count towards our 5 a day recommendation, fruits and vegetables have distinct differences. however, this may depend on whether you are talking to a botanist, who uses the botanical definition, or a nutritionist or chef, who will likely use the culinary definition.

Reading: Cucumber is a fruit or vegetable

botanical classification: cucumbers are fruits.

A botanist would use the botanical classification, which is based on the physiological characteristics of the plant, such as the structure, function, and organization of the plant.1 Therefore, botanically speaking, a ‘fruit’ is the product with seed that grows from the ovary of a flowering plant or, in other words, a fruit is how plants propagate their seeds.2 a botanical fruit would have at least one seed and would grow from the flower of the plant. 1 With this definition in mind, cucumbers are classified as fruits because they contain tiny seeds in the middle and grow from the flower of the cucumber plant.

on the other hand, a ‘vegetable’ in botanical terms does not have a set definition, but is more of an umbrella term that encompasses all other edible aspects of the plant, roots, stems, and leaves.1

So, putting on our botany caps, we would classify foods like apples, strawberries, and peaches as fruits, including cucumbers!

the culinary classification: cucumbers are vegetables.

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A nutritionist, chef, or even your grandmother, would use the culinary classification system, which defines fruits and vegetables in a slightly different way, based on the way the plants are used and their flavor profiles.1 culinary speaking , a ‘vegetable’ usually has a harder texture, has a milder flavor, and often requires cooking in dishes such as stews, soups, or stir-fries.1,2 however, a ‘fruit’ has a softer texture, tends to be sweet or enjoyed raw or in desserts or jams.1,2

Cucumbers can be crunchy, refreshing, and enjoyed raw. however, we also prepare cucumbers in savory dishes like pickles, which is why we generally classify cucumbers as vegetables.

botanical vs culinary cucumber Figure 1. Botanical vs culinary definition

botanical vs. culinary classification

then why can we classify cucumbers in two different ways, when it confuses us all? These definitions have their own purposes. For example, botanical classification is useful to a botanist when he wants to discover the origins of cucumbers, help him identify different varieties of cucumbers, or understand how to grow and harvest various cucumbers.

The culinary definition may be more useful to the general public, nutritionists and chefs because foods that are from the same botanical family may not have the same nutritional compositions.

For example, melons, watermelons, pumpkins, cucumbers, and squashes all belong to the same botanical family but have different nutritional compositions.1

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Other botanical fruits that are considered culinary vegetables are: avocado, olive, pumpkin, tomato, sweet corn, zucchini, cucumber, peas, chilli pepper, eggplant.

botanical fruit that are culinary vegetables Figure 2. Botanical fruit that are culinary vegetables

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cucumbers are part of your 5 a day

For the 5 a day recommendations, cucumbers are classified as salad greens, which is the culinary definition, because that’s how most people learn about fruits and vegetables. an adult portion of a cucumber measures 5 cm, remember to eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables so you can reach your 5 a day.3

cucumbers as part of your 5-a-day Figure 3. Portion of a cucumber

summary: cucumbers are fruits and vegetables!

To summarize, cucumbers are often prepared in salads or pickled despite being botanically a fruit, so they are often described as a vegetable from a culinary perspective. who cares, though, that cucumbers taste just as good as them! We can all agree that cucumbers are easy snacks, can promote hydration due to their high water content, and are a healthy option for our diets, providing fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

When do you think is the best season for cucumbers? Check out our article on seasonal fruits and vegetables by month in Europe!

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  1. pennington jat & fisherman ra (2009). classification of fruits and vegetables. journal of food composition and analysis 22s: s23-s31.
  2. lexico website, fruit. accessed February 11, 2020.
  3. nhs (2020). rough guide – fruit & serving size of vegetables. accessed February 17, 2020.

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