Bitter Cucumbers: What Gives?
I may be a lot of things, but bitter is not one of them, or so I thought. Last week, I pried open my first jar of homemade pickles, eager to taste the fruits of my gardening and canning labors. Brined, sealed, delivered, they were awful, so horribly bitter that I lost control of all facial muscles, only to be consumed by an involuntary pinched-face lip-lock. Behold, a pickle puss was born. When I could finally dislodge my jaw and spit out the acrid bits, I grabbed the closest clean dish towel (now that took some looking) and wiped my tongue in between bursts of “blech…blech…blech!”
Why So Bitter?
Once I got my face back to full working order, I went to the Internet for answers, to search the awesome repositories of agricultural research and scientific findings; and this is what I found. Bitter cucumbers contain elevated amounts of a compound called cucurbitacin, which is produced when cucumber plants are stressed and growing conditions less than optimal.
I hate to waste food even when inedible, so I decided to play with my food instead. (Artwork entitled: Mr Cucumberhead sours on the idea.)
Don’t Stress Out Your Cucumbers…
Happy pickles come from happy cucumbers–cucumbers grown in conditions that promote fast growth and vine health. According to Peaceful Valley Organics (link to full article), this can be achieved by proper:
- Temperature regulation (cool summers seem to be a problem)
- Soil conditions
If the idea of cucumber stress stresses you out, consider another option: growing cucumbers with a naturally occurring gene that inhibits the production of cucurbitacin no matter what the growing conditions.
Naturally Non-Bitter Cucumbers
Here’s a list of suggested bitter-free varieties compiled from the links below: Ashley, Camilla, Carmen, Cool Breeze, County Fair, Diva, Early Russian, Eversweet, Green Knight, Improved Long Green, Lemon, Saticoy, Stimora, Sunnybrook, Summer Dance, Sweet Slice, Sweet Success, Tanja, Tasty Green, and Wautoma.
While I love the variety I grew this year, Homemade Pickle, I must pay closer attention to watering and temperature control if I want to harvest bitter-free cucumbers next year. And as I learned, a bitter cucumber makes for a bitter pickle.
Everything you ever wanted to know about bitter cucumbers, but were afraid to ask:
Here’s some more great info:
- Cornell University: Cucumber Home Growing Guide
- Oregon State University: Cucumber Bitterness Explained
- Purdue University: Bitter Cucumbers a Temporary Problem
- Washington State University: Bitterness in Cucumbers