What Is an English Cucumber?

And why do they come wrapped in plastic?

four English cucumbers wrapped in plastic up close
Photo: Esben_H/Getty Images

What's more refreshing on a hot summer's day than a cool cucumber beverage or salad? Before you hit the produce aisle, make sure you know: Not all cucumbers are created equal. English cucumbers are different from your standard American slicing cucumber, and not just because they're sold wrapped in plastic. Find out what makes this variety so special.

What Is an English Cucumber?

English cucumber half sliced
Brie Passano/Meredith

English cucumbers — also known as seedless, greenhouse, burpless, or European cucumbers — are long and straight with fewer seeds and thin skins, averaging about a foot in length. For these reasons, they are considered the crème de la crème of cucumbers. Their dark green skin has distinct ridges running the length of the cucumber.

The nickname "greenhouse cucumber" refers to the way they are grown: English cucumbers are parthenocarpic, meaning they have the ability to develop fruit without fertilization, which is why their seeds never fully develop. And because they don't require pollination from other plants, they are better suited for growing in a greenhouse as opposed to an open field.

What Does an English Cucumber Taste Like?

In general, English cucumbers are sweeter than the common American cucumber you find in most supermarkets. Part of this is due to the fact that they're seeds are nearly undetectable, so there's no bitter flavor as a result. In terms of texture, they tend to be a bit more firm and crunchy than the common cucumber.

English Cucumbers vs. Other Types of Cucumbers

different types of cucumbers, including English, Kirby, American slicing, and Persian
Clockwise from top left: Kirby, American slicing, Persian, English. Helen Norman/Meredith

There are nearly 100 different varieties of cucumbers, but most of them can't be found at the grocery store. Some of the more common varieties include English, American slicing, Persian, and Kirby cucumbers.

English Cucumbers vs. American Slicing (Common) Cucumbers

American slicing cucumbers, also known as common cucumbers, are the standard cucumbers found in supermarkets in the U.S. They have a smoother, darker, and thicker skin, as well as a spongy flesh full of large seeds. And compared to their English counterparts, they're a bit shorter and more plump.

Unlike English cucumbers, whose skins are so thin you don't have to peel them, American slicing cucumbers require peeling and deseeding for a less bitter flavor. It's easy to see why English cucumbers might be more desirable, but keep in mind they come with a higher price tag.

English Cucumbers vs. Persian Cucumbers

Persian cucumbers are the most similar to English cucumbers in taste, and the two are often used interchangeably. The main difference between them is size: Persian cucumbers grow to about half the length of English cucumbers on average.

Like English cucumbers, Persian cucumbers have thin skins and mild flavor.

English Cucumbers vs. Kirby Cucumbers

Their bumpy exterior and short length (they grow to about six inches or less) makes Kirby cucumbers really stand out from the rest. Ranging in color from yellow to dark green, they're often used for pickling and are sometimes sold under the name "pickling cucumbers." Like English cucumbers, they are more firm and crunchy than American slicing cucumbers.

Why Are English Cucumbers Wrapped in Plastic?

English cucumbers wrapped in plastic in produce crate
Justin Tallis/Getty Images

When you're in the produce aisle, the easiest way to spot an English cucumber is to look for the ones wrapped in plastic. American slicing cucumbers usually have an edible wax coating to prolong their shelf life and reduce moisture loss. But since English cucumbers are typically eaten with the skin on, the same wax coating is not applied. Instead, they are wrapped in shrink wrap to avoid moisture loss and to protect their extra-thin skin.

How to Buy and Store English Cucumbers

You can find English cucumbers in supermarkets year-round, sometimes sold under the name "seedless cucumbers." To check that an English cucumber is ripe, gently squeeze both sides to make sure it's free of soft spots and not mushy, and avoid any that appear limp or shriveled.

English cucumbers can be refrigerated in the plastic wrap for up to a week, although they are prone to "chilling injury," which is why they should be kept at the warmest part of the fridge, usually the front. If you're using only part of the cucumber, be sure to rewrap what's left before returning it to the fridge. To store sliced cucumbers, place them in an airtight container and cover with water. Refrigerate for up to a week.

You can also freeze cucumbers, but keep in mind previously frozen cucumbers won't retain their crunch, so they're best used in pureed dishes such as gazpacho. To freeze whole, uncut cucumbers, first wash and dry them, then freeze in an airtight container for up to three months.

How to Use English Cucumbers

Although you don't need to peel English cucumbers, be sure to wash and dry them before using. Their edible skin and tiny seeds means they're great served raw to give any dish an added crunch, including in salads, noodle bowls, wraps, or salsa. Try grating it and adding it to tzatziki sauce, or pureeing it for use in soups. And of course, it's sweet flavor makes it ideal for use in cocktails or other beverages, like this Summertime Mule. There's really nothing you can't pair with this mild cucumber, but get inspired with some of our favorite cucumber side dish recipes.

Favorite Cucumber Recipes

Israeli Tomato and Cucumber Salad
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Put your cukes to good use with these top-rated recipes:


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