The interior of a cool cucumber contains ascorbic acid, vitamin C, and caffeic acid, which can do anything from possibly help to strengthen the immune systems to ease swelling on the skin. The exterior, the skin, is rich in fiber and contains a variety of beneficial minerals including silica, potassium and magnesium.

The silica in cucumber is an essential component of healthy connective tissue. Cucumber juice has been suggested to help improve the complexion and health of the skin. Cucumber's high water content makes it naturally hydrating — no sports beverages needed here! Cucumber slices are supplied topically for various types of skin problems, including swelling under the eyes and sunburn. Two compounds in cucumbers, ascorbic acid and caffeic acid, prevent water retention, which may explain why cucumbers applied topically are often helpful for swollen eyes, minor burns and dermatitis.

Adding sliced or grated cucumber to salads is a good way to increase fiber and water intake. If you don’t care for the skin of the usual cucumber, select an English cucumber, sometimes sold wrapped in plastic. The English cucumber is bred with thin skin and very few seeds.

Cucumbers were thought to originate more than 10,000 years ago in southern Asia. Early explorers and travelers introduced this vegetable to India and other parts of Asia. It was very popular in the ancient civilizations of Egypt, Greece and Rome, whose people used it not only as a food, but also for its skin healing properties. Greenhouse cultivation of cucumbers was very popular during the time of Louis XIV.

While it is unknown when the pickling process was developed, researchers speculate that the gherkin variety of cucumber was developed from a plant native to Africa. During ancient times, Spain was one of the countries that was pickling cucumbers. Roman emperors were said to have imported them for this purpose.

Cucumbers are very sensitive to heat, so choose those that are displayed in refrigerated cases in the market. They should be firm, rounded at their edges, and their color should be a bright medium to dark green. Avoid cucumbers that are yellow, puffy, have sunken water-soaked areas, or are wrinkled at their tips. Thinner cucumbers will generally have fewer seeds than those that are thicker. Cucumbers should be stored in the refrigerator, where they will keep for several days. If you do not use the entire cucumber during one meal, wrap the remainder tightly in plastic or place it in a sealed container so that it does not become dried out. For maximum quality, cucumber should be used within one or two days.

Unwaxed cucumbers do not need to be peeled but should be washed before cutting. Waxed cucumbers should always be peeled first. Cucumbers can be sliced, diced or cut into sticks. While the seeds are edible and nutritious, some people prefer not to eat them. To easily remove them, cut the cucumber lengthwise and use the tip of a spoon to gently scoop them out.

Some cucumber enjoying tips:

• Use half-inch thick cucumber slices instead of crackers

• Mix diced cucumbers with sugar snap peas and mint leaves and toss with rice wine vinaigrette.

• For refreshing cold gazpacho soup that takes five minutes or less to make, simply purée cucumbers, tomatoes, green peppers and onions, then add salt and pepper to taste.

• Add diced cucumber to tuna fish, eggless egg salad or chicken salad recipes.

• Add slices of cucumbers to ice water for a refreshing beverage.

RECIPE

Cucumber, Bell Pepper and Tomato Toss

Use the summer garden as an inspiration for a new condiment

Makes about 3 cups

1 cup peeled, seeded and diced cucumber

¾ cup chopped Roma tomatoes

½ cup seeded and chopped red or yellow bell pepper

1 Tablespoon olive oil

2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon dried parsley

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a glass or plastic bowl. Toss well. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving as a condiment with entrees, pasta, vegetables or salads.

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