Cool Off With Cucumber
Whether in jest or during a hot summer day, we've all heard the phrase, "cool as a cucumber," and most of us have used it ourselves. It's become one of those sayings that people use all the time, but I never really thought about what it meant--until now.
All I knew for sure was that when I went to India, the cooling raita was made of cucumbers mixed with yogurt. Used as a palate cleanser, it helped cool the mouth after eating spicy meals.
I'd also heard of the British (in India?) partaking of copious amounts of cucumber sandwiches. I've seen it in movies, and have experienced it firsthand.
With all this evidence, you'd think I'd have asked this question before: are cucumbers really cooling? Or is it just one of those things people say, but the true meaning was lost centuries ago?
Cucumbers Really *Are* Cooling
According to the Online Etymology Dictionary entry for cucumbers (here), the phrase "cool as a cucumber (c.1732) embodies ancient folk knowledge confirmed by science in 1970: [the] inside of a field cucumber on a warm day is 20 degrees cooler than the air temperature."
In some amount of disbelief (and being the scientist I am), I went in search of other sources to back this claim up. I mean, 20 degrees is a pretty major difference, and if true, that would explain many things: the raita, the cucumber sandwiches, and not to mention the saying.
Through some sleuthing around, I finally came across many more, similar claims. Apparently the fact that cucumbers are made of 96% water allows their core temperature to remain 20 degrees lower than outside temps.
I spent about an hour on Google Scholar looking for the peer-reviewed paper that first claimed this scientific fact; alas, I could not find it. However, the closest I got to confirmation from official sources was the CDC's (Centers for Disease Control's) mention of the fact in their cucumber article, here.
Any way you look at it, though, even if it's not a full 20 degrees (fehrenheit, I assume) cooler than outside temperatures, the fact that it cools the body isn't debatable. Eat some cucumber yourself, and just see how it makes you feel!
Amazing Cucumber Facts
- In popular terms, "cool as a cucumber" means someone who is laid back
- Cucumbers originated in India, and have been cultivated for at least 3,000 years
- They were probably introduced to the rest of the world by the Romans
- Native Americans were cultivating cucumbers that they got from the Spanish as early as the mid-1500s
- China is the largest producer of cucumbers, producing 40,709,556 tons in 2010
- Cucumbers are a fruit
- Cucumbers are often pollinated by bees
- The legend of Gilgamesh describes people eating cucumbers
- The Roman emperor Tiberius had cucumbers every day, year round. "Indeed, he was never without it; for he had raised beds made in frames upon wheels, by means of which the cucumbers were moved and exposed to the full heat of the sun; while, in winter, they were withdrawn, and placed under the protection of frames glazed with mirrorstone." Reportedly, they were also cultivated in cucumber houses glazed with oiled cloth
- They were called "cowcumbers" from the 1600-1800s. This stemmed from the notion that uncooked vegetables were responsible for summer diseases, and were fit only for cows to consume
- Cucumbers were reportedly introduced into England in the early 14th century, lost, and then reintroduced about 250 years later
- There are two types of cucumber: slicing and pickling
- Cucumbers that are soaked in vinegar and spices become pickles (gherkins)
- Cucumbers get their taste from the seeds. Medium-sized cucumbers with soft, small seeds have the best flavor
Nutrition Information (1/2 cup slices, 52g)
Amount Per Serving
% Daily Value
(Calories From Fat 1)
Recipe: Cucumber & Red Onion Salad
- 2 cucumbers
- 3 Tbsp white vinegar
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 1 red onion, peeled, sliced, and separated into rings
- 1 tsp dry dill
- Rinse and scrub the cucumbers
- Thinly slice the cucumbers into circles
- Mix the vinegar, salt, pepper, dill, and sugar in a bowl
- Add the cucumbers and red onions
- Mix well
- Serve chilled or at room temperature
Recipe: Cucumber Raita
- 1 medium cucumber
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 2 cups plain yogurt (or plain soy yogurt)
- 1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped
- 2 Tbsp fresh coriander (or mint), chopped
- Cayenne pepper or paprika as garnish
- Wash and peel the cucumber
- Cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch sections, then crosswise into thin slices
- Place cut cucumbers onto towel to dry away the moisture
- Turn the heat to high and toast cumin seeds for a few mins, constantly stirring
- Stir the yogurt (or soy yogurt) to smooth it, and add the cumin seeds, garlic, and coriander (or mint)
- Add cucumbers to the mixture, and add cayenne or paprika as garnish on the top
- Chill before serving; serve with sliced raw vegetables, rice, bread, or on its own
Recipe: Cucumber Cocktail
- 4 slices of cucumber
- 3 sprigs of mint
- 1.5 oz gin
- 0.5 oz simple syrup
- 0.5 oz lime (or lemon) juice
- Some ice cubes
- Muddler (something to mash with)
- Shaker (something you can shake liquid in)
- Muddle (mash) cucumber and mint and add to shaker
- Add gin, simple syrup, and lime (or lemon) juice, and shake with some ice
- Strain into a chilled glass and garnish with cucumber slice and sprig of mint
Do you think you'll ever be as cool as a cucumber?
© 2012 Kate P