Bitter-tasting cucumbers can be caused by unfavorable growing conditions such as not enough sunlight, inconsistent water levels, too high temperatures, or insufficient soil nutrients. The bitterness comes from the compound cucurbitacin entering the cucumber fruit.
The last thing you want to discover at the end of the cucumber growing season is that your cucumbers have turned bitter. Unfortunately, there is not much you can do at that point.
That is why it is so important to understand where the bitterness can come from and prevent it from happening. Read on to learn about what causes cucumbers to become bitter and what you can do about it.
What Is Responsible for the Bitterness in Cucumbers?
A bitter flavor in cucumbers is caused by the presence of cucurbitacin. This is a naturally occurring compound found in all cucurbit fruits and vegetables such as courgettes and most types of gourds.
Usually, cucurbits stay sweet because the cucurbitacin doesn’t usually enter the fruit. In most cases, this compound stays in the leaves and flowers of the plant.
However, sometimes this compound can also end up in the fruit itself. There is no other way to notice its presence other than taste. So in the case of cucumbers, by the time you taste it, it is already too late.
The good news is that finding one bitter cucumber doesn’t mean that the entire cucumber is lost. Even the fruit on the same plant might not have the same levels of cucurbitacin.
After harvesting, have a taste of the cucumber before adding it to dishes. You don’t want it to ruin the entire meal.
How Much Cucurbitacin is Toxic?
Even when a cucumber tastes bitter, its cucurbitacin content is likely still quite low. You would have to eat a lot of cucumbers to reach the human toxicity levels.
Still, if you do notice bitterness in your cucumber, it is best to cut away that part of the cucumber. Usually, the cucurbitacin won’t be present in the entire cucumber. It tends to concentrate on the stem end.
Is It Safe to Eat Bitter Cucumbers?
Although it probably hasn’t reached toxic levels, it is still not a good idea to eat bitter cucumbers. Even low levels of cucurbitacin can cause an upset stomach.
If you taste a trace of bitterness in your cucumber, check how far it has spread. Most of the bitterness is concentrated near the stem end so cut that part off.
Take a slice from the center of the cucumber to check if that part hasn’t been affected by the bitterness. Only consume the parts that are not bitter.
How to Prevent Bitter Cucumbers
Once bitter, cucumbers cannot be rescued. To prevent your harvest from becoming inedible, try these tips that help cucumbers stay sweet.
- Provide Maximum Sunlight
Carefully choose the spot where you will grow your cucumber plants. They should receive at least 6 hours of sunlight every day.
It can help to let cucumber plants grow vertically so they are less affected by the shade of surrounding plants and structures. In colder areas, placing a polytunnel can help trap more of the sun’s rays.
- Ensure Enough Water
Cucumber plants need at least 1 inch of fresh water every week. This is easy to keep track of when growing cucumbers indoors but less so when you are depending on rainwater.
Place a rainwater gauge outside and monitor the water level daily. Water the cucumbers with a sprinkler if you notice that there hasn’t been enough rainfall.
- Provide Afternoon Shade
Yes, cucumbers love the sun but there is such a thing as too much of the good stuff. If you live in a hot climate, you might want to provide a cover for part of the afternoon, when the sun is at its hottest.
Check the direction of the sun and place a shading structure on the side where the sun will hit in the afternoon. This makes sure that the cucumbers still get full access to the morning sun.
- Give Enough Healthy Soil
Cucumbers take up a lot of soil moisture and soil nutrients. You want to be sure that these essential resources are not taken up by other types of vegetation.
Monitor the planted area for any weeds and remove them asap. It can also help to space the cucumber plants further apart.
- Plant Female-Only Cucumbers
Having difficulty distinguishing the male cucumbers from the females? You don’t have to do any guesswork if you plant seeds that will only grow the female fruit.
Although this isn’t a guarantee that the cucumbers won’t turn bitter, it does give you better chances. Pollination is the most common cause of bitter cucumbers.
DON’T MISS: Learn how to plant cucumber seeds.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Do You Get the Bitterness Out of Cucumbers?
You can only prevent a cucumber from turning bitter, you cannot reverse its flavor profile. If you have a bitter cucumber, all you can do is cut off the bitter parts and only eat the parts that have been unaffected.
Are Female Cucumbers Bitter?
Pollinated female cucumbers can taste bitter which is why many cucumber growers remove the male fruit. These days, you can buy seed varieties that only grow female cucumbers but even then the cucumber can taste bitter due to factors in its growing environment.
Why Does My Cucumber Taste Like Vinegar?
The sour vinegar-like flavor in cucumbers is a sign of underwatering. Prevent this from happening by making sure your cucumber plants get at least 1 inch of water every week.
Nobody wants bitter cucumbers – their fresh juicy taste is what makes them so delicious. Unfortunately, there is no way to tell from a cucumber’s exterior what its flavor profile will be like.
Your best chance to enjoy your cucumber harvest is to avoid the environmental factors that can cause cucurbitacin to enter the fruit. These include not enough sunlight hours, long periods of hot dry weather, and insufficient nutrients. Though not a foolproof growing method, it can help to only grow female cucumbers.
If you do discover bitter cucumbers, try cutting off the bitter pieces before throwing away the entire cucumber.