If you have ever bitten into a bitter cucumber, you know it’s not something you want to do again. If you grow your own cukes, a few simple techniques will help you avoid bitter fruit.
Why Cucumbers Taste Bitter
Cucumbers contain the natural compound cucurbitacin, which causes bitterness. Bitterness varies by variety of cucumber and by temperatures during the growing season.
Uneven watering increases bitterness, as does cool weather. Fertilization, plant spacing, and watering may also affect bitterness, although plant scientists have not found consistent cause and effect.
Growing Great Cucumbers
Plant cucumber varieties that are less bitter. Studies in eastern Washington State found that Burpee Pickler produces four times as much bitter fruit as National Pickling.
Plant cucumbers in warm soil in warm, sunny locations. Since misshapen fruit tend to be more bitter, and uneven watering contributes to misshapen fruit, it’s important to provide adequate and consistent irrigation.
Mulching helps maintain even soil moisture. Inadequate nutrient levels also contribute to uneven growth, so ample fertilization can help prevent bitterness. A soil test can provide guidance on the fertilizer and amendments your soil needs.
Peel Away the Cucumber Bitterness
Bitterness varies in the different parts of a cucumber. The stem end, the peel, and the light green area just under the peel have higher concentrations of the bitter compound than the interior flesh. While not everyone agrees about this, some gardeners say you can peel away the bitterness this way:
* Start at the blossom end of the fruit.
* Slice off one strip of peel, stopping about one inch from the stem end.
* Wash the knife, then continue slicing off strips until the cuke is completely peeled.
* Wash the knife again before cutting up the cucumber.
Want to learn more about preventing bitter cucumbers?
The following extension websites have excellent information about bitterness in cucumbers and how to prevent it. Since local growing conditions affect bitterness, it’s a good idea to check with your extension service about the best varieties and growing methods for your area.
To find the nearest extension office, go to The National Institute of Food and Agriculture website.
Cucumber Bitterness Explained from Oregon State University Extension Service
What Makes My Cucumbers Taste Bitter? from NC Cooperative Extension
Creative Commons Flickr photo courtesy of David Davies