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How to Grow Cucumbers That Are Not Bitter Tasting

Cucumber that are not bitter flavored
To avoid bitter flavored cucumbers, plant varieties that have very low levels of cucurbitacins or give cucumbers optimal growing conditions.

Cucumbers plants that are stressed during the growing season may produce fruit that is bitter flavored. Commonly a lack of water or temperatures too cold or too hot cause cucumbers to bear bitter tasting fruit.

But some cucumbers may have a slightly bitter flavor by nature. Cucumbers contain organic compounds called cucurbitacins that can cause fruit to taste bitter. Low levels of cucurbitacins are not detectable, but high levels make fruits taste bitter. Cucurbitacin levels may increase with environmental stress during the growing season.

Tips to Avoid Bitter Tasting Cucumbers:

To avoid bitter flavored cucumbers, plant varieties that have very low levels of cucurbitacins or give cucumbers optimal growing conditions. Here are suggestions for optimal cucumber growing and also a list of cucumbers that are usually not bitter tasting:

Site. Plant cucumbers in a sunny spot in soil rich in organic matter and well drained. Raised beds or mounds are ideal for growing cucumbers; the soil will warm early in the season and stay warm. Work several inches of aged compost and aged manure into the planting beds ahead of sowing or transplanting. During the season, sidedress plant with aged compost. Compost is nutrient rich and moisture retentive.

Give cucumbers plenty of room to grow; trellised or caged cumbers should be spaced 8 to 12 inches (20-30 cm) apart. Space hills for growing cucumbers at least 3 feet (91 cm) apart.

Cucumber Planting. Sow seed or set out cucumber transplants after all danger of frost has passed and the soil has warmed to 60°F (16°C). Frost can stress cucumbers. If there is a danger of frost once cucumbers are in the garden, protect plants with floating row covers.

Water. Give cucumbers plenty of water; do not let the soil go dry especially while they are flowering and fruiting. Water stress during the early stages of growth will cause bitter-tasting compounds to concentrate in the fruit. Water cucumbers deeply once or twice a week or place plants on a drip so that the soil stays moist but not wet. Use your finger to measure soil moisture; the soil should not be dry deeper than 3 inches below the surface.

Mulch. Once the soil has reached 70°F (21°C), reduce soil moisture evaporation by mulching plants with an organic mulch or black plastic. Mulch will also reduce weeds which compete for soil moisture and nutrients.

Protect cucumbers from high temperatures. Temperatures consistently in the mid-90s or warmer can stress cucumbers. Provide filtered afternoon shade to help cool the garden; plant cucumbers to the south of tall crops such as corn or sunchokes or place a frame and shade cloth with a 40 to 50 percent block of sunlight over cucumbers.

Cucumber Harvest. Pick cucumbers at their optimum size and pick them frequently. Cucumbers should be ready for picking 50 to 70 days after planting. When the cucumber drops its flower at the blossom end of the fruit, the fruit is ready for harvest. Cucumbers are less tasty when they grow too big.

Know the mature size of the cucumbers you are growing: about 6 to 8 inches (15-20 cm) for American slicers, 4 to 6 inches (10-15 cm) for Middle Eastern types, 3 to 5 (7-13 cm) inches for pickling types; 8 to 12 inches (20-30 cm) for Asian varieties.

Serving. Bitterness concentrates in the stem end and skin of the cucumber. Peel the fruit and cut off the stem end by an inch or two to reduce bitterness at serving time. Rinse your peeling knife after each slice so that you do not spread the bitter taste.

Cucumber varieties. Choose cucumber varieties that are not bitter flavored. The level of curcurbitacins in cucumbers varies by variety but also from plant to plant and even fruit to fruit on the same plant. (An enzyme called elaterase also present in cucumbers can reduce the amount of cucurbitacins but the amount of elaterase can vary from season to season and plant to plant as well.)

Cucumber varieties with low levels of cucurbitacins include Jazzer, Holland, Lemon, Aria, and Marketmore 97. Keep a garden journal and note varieties you have grown that were not bitter tasting.

Best cucumber growing tips at How to Grow Cucumbers.

 

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34 Comments

  1. cucurbiticin is produced as temperature rise so early morning picking is essential. We learned this from a USDA study years ago and is absolutely true.

  2. Regular cucumber varieties will become bitter when exposed to hot dry conditions. Cucumber-melon varieties have always solved this problem for me. In my experience, Carosello and Armenian cucumbers are always bitter-free and burpless (don’t cause indigestion). They also tend to grow faster as the summer wears on.

    Though there are other seed suppliers who may carry a few of these cucumber types, Cucumbershop.com tends to have the most varieties at a reasonable price.

  3. I have grown “burpless” for the last 3 years and had no problem at all until this year while we have had the high temperatures in the UK a few have gone bitter towards the ends. I hang a fleece in order to protect from the sun but the problem is more likely to be the high temperature (30c)

    • Yes, very high temperatures can turn cucumbers bitter tasting. Protecting plants from high temperatures and keeping the soil evenly moist and protecting it from the hot sun with mulch may help, but is not a sure solution.

  4. I’m growing Spacemaster cucumbers this year. The first 15-20 I harvested were delicious, but just in the past few days, they have become bitter. Our hottest period was a few weeks ago, so I’m wondering if I either underwatered in the last week or maybe need to add something to my soil. More compost and mulch, perhaps? It’s too bad because the earlier cucumbers were among the best I’ve eaten.

    • A bitter cucumber will be a bitter pickle. The bitterness of a cucumber comes from an organic compound called cucurbitacin; this compound is usually concentrated in the leaves, stems, and skin of the cucumber. To remove bitterness from a cucumber try this: (1) wash the skin thoroughly with clear water; (2) cut off a small slice at the stem end of the cucumber; (3) rub the flat side of the cut piece against the now exposed flesh of the cucumber (white flesh against white flesh)– soon you will see a white foam appear; keep rubbing until the foam disappears–a minute or two; (4) repeat at the other end of the fruit. This rubbing is said to extract the bitter cucurbitacin from the fruit.

  5. For those who did not know if you have a bitter cucumber,fix it! just cut the end off about 1/16th of an inch and rub it back-and-forth vigorously on the cut part of the cucumber it will make white foam appear around the edges so you keep rubbing till you do not see any new foam appearing ,then rinse it off. Almost every cucumber I harvested this year was bitter due to watering issues….

  6. So I’m pretty sure growing cucumbers in arizona heat will always be bitter cucumbers? So bitter it’s like bitting into something that makes you wanna throw up. LMAO almost like it’s poison. I guess it can’t hurt to grow em in the shade next year and baby em.

    • You may want to time the planting of the cucumbers so that they set fruit and mature in the time of the year when temperatures are in the 70s and 80sF, perhaps mid to late autumn in Arizona.

  7. A real problem this growing season with my English cucumbers. Thank you for this information. I now know why they are bitter. Raging forest fires and extreme heat this summer in Kamloops British Columbia. I am about to pull the two plants I have in my raised garden. We cant eat them. I can’t even give them away.
    Interesting info below suggesting cutting ends and rubbing them with the cut-off portion and rub until you cannot see any more foam coming out, then rinse.

  8. This comment translates from Hungarian: “The “ancestors” of cucumbers have evolved in the shadow of tropical forests and are therefore not particularly fond of excessive sunshine.”
    Yes, the cucumber originated in India and has been grown by gardeners and farmers for at least 3,000 years. It was likely introduced to Europe by the Greeks or Romans. The cucumber appears in garden records in France in the 9th century, England in the 14th century, and in North America by the mid-16th century.

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