Is "cool as a cucumber" storage advice? This staple in your produce drawer may not last as long as you think.
Advertisement

Crisp, refreshing cucumber is a mainstay in recipes for salads, cocktails, and pasta. It also makes an excellent addition to a crudité plate or the perfect vessel for scooping up mouthfuls of homemade hummus.

But there's more to this humble piece of produce than meets the eye: It turns out, cucumbers are quite the sensitive little veggie (it's technically a fruit, classified as such for its hard outer rind and no internal divisions). Read on to find out whether cucumbers need to be refrigerated or not and if freezing is a viable option.

Should Cucumbers Be Refrigerated?

No matter the variety — whether it's slicing, English, Persian, Japanese, or mini snacking — cucumbers are subject to what's called "chilling injury," says Trevor Suslow, vice president of food safety for the Produce Marketing Association. This means that when they're stored for more than a few days at typical home refrigeration temperatures (37 degrees F to 40 degrees F), cucumbers will develop soft spots, sunken areas, or sliminess.

Slicing cucumbers, a basic variety you'll find in any supermarket, are often coated with a thin layer of an approved food wax or fruit luster that helps reduce water loss and adds a few days of "keeping quality," Suslow explains. "Therefore, a few days in the refrigerator is fine for the hardier slicing cucumbers and essential for the Persian and very thin-skinned, mini-snacking cucumbers."

How Refrigeration Affects Cucumbers

When stored in the refrigerator for more than five days, cucumbers will often turn more mushy than appetizing. (The USDA's FoodKeeper app, an excellent resource with information on how long food and beverages can safely be stored, also recommends cucumbers be consumed within four to six days for optimum freshness and quality.)

You may also find some supermarket cucumbers packaged in a thin polyethylene film, which is perforated to help with the natural shrinking process of the produce and allow for some breathability, according to experts at Sunset Grown Produce. Studies show that a naked cucumber will shrink as much as 3 percent due to water loss, so the film acts as both an insulator to protect against cold injury, and slows dehydration and spoilage.

If you're buying cucumbers from a farmer's market or harvesting them from your garden, the situation is a little different. These kinds of cucumbers will likely keep well for about 10 days in the fridge, says Suslow. Leave them in there until you plan to use them as they'll be subject to chilling injury if removed from the fridge and then returned.

So, What's the Best Way to Store Whole Cucumbers?

Even though cucumbers are prone to chilling injury, the fridge is still the best place to store them. At room temperature, cucumbers will only last for about two days. So, what's the solution? Store cucumbers in the warmest part of the fridge — towards the front, furthest from the cooling elements. Use within five days for best results, or freeze (more on that below).

How to Store Cut Cucumbers

To keep sliced cucumbers from drying out, place them in an airtight container and cover with water. Refrigerate for up to a week.

How to Freeze Cucumbers

To make cucumbers last beyond their limited refrigerated lifespan, you have two options: pickling (learn how here) or freezing. Fortunately, the latter couldn't be easier. To freeze, start by washing and drying the cucumbers as normal. Place the whole, uncut cucumbers in an airtight container and freeze for up to three months.

Unfortunately, previously frozen cucumbers won't retain their signature crunch, so they're best pureed for gazpacho or smoothies. Depending on how you plan to use them, pickling may be the better option for storing cucumbers.

Related Content: