Cucumber Bitterness


“Why is my cucumber taste very bitter. I am trying to water it often, but it is not helping. Thank you.~J.”

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The amount of bitterness cucumbers contain varies from year to year. There are many theories

about bitterness but it has been difficult to obtain consistent information as to its cause.

Temperature appears to be one cause of bitterness. More complaints of bitter cucumbers will

generally occur during a cool growing season than during a warm one. Research has shown

that fertilization practices, plant spacing, and frequency of irrigation have little consistent

effect on the number of bitter cucumbers produced. Yield and quality of cucumbers will,

of course, be increased with optimum irrigation and fertilization through the picking season.

Contrary to the belief of some people, the direction of peeling does not have an effect on the

spread of bitterness in a cucumber fruit.

Different varieties of cucumbers vary widely in their tendency to be bitter. The accompanying

table indicates the percentage of bitter fruit in selected varieties of cucumbers.

Percentage of Bitter Fruit in Selected Cucumber Varieties

Variety Percent Bitter Fruit
Burpee Pickler 90
Straight “8″ (Pepino) 81
Chicago Pickling 78
Burpeanna Hybrid 40
Early White Spine 36
Marketer 24
National Pickling 23
Sensation Hybrid 20
Improved Long Green 6
Eversweet 0
Ashley 0
Sunnybrook 0
Saticoy Hybrid 0
Lemon 0

When growing cucumbers, select a location which is likely to receive as much

heat as possible. An area which is not shaded during any part of the day and

one having a south slope would be ideal. Even though irrigation practices have

not proven to significantly affect the number of bitter cucumbers produced,

nubbins and other misshapen fruit associated with poor irrigation seem more

likely to be bitter than are well-shaped fruits. Thus, the gardener should

provide ample and uniform moisture as well as the nutrients—potassium,

nitrogen, and phosphorous. These practices result in rapid uniform growth

of the fruit.

The best advice for the gardener is to plant varieties which have been shown

to produce a low percentage of bitter fruit. In addition to the varieties listed in

the table, bitterness has not been a problem in the new, long hybrids which

have recently become popular with the home gardener.

In general, pickling varieties tend to have more bitter fruits than do slicing

varieties; however, the amount of bitterness that is found in commercial

pickling cucumber varieties available in the United States does not seem

to be sufficient to impair flavor in either sweet or dill pickles made from

them, even if bitter cucumbers are used.

When using cucumbers for salad, taste a small portion from the stem end

of each cucumber before it is sliced. If the fruit is bitter, the bitterness can

be eliminated by removing the outer flesh with the peeling. Peel more

deeply at the stem end, since this is where bitter compounds penetrate most deeply.

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© Mertie Mae Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk!, 2010. Unauthorized use

and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission

from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and

links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mertie Mae

Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk! with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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