B. Rosie Lerner

Purdue Extension Consumer Horticulturist




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Cucumbers bitter during hot, dry weather

Cucumber flowers and fruit Photo credits: Rosie Lerner, Purdue Extension

If you've noticed that your cucumbers are a little (or a lot) bitter lately, don't give up hope. A little water, mulch and patience will provide relief.

Most cucumber plants contain a bitter compound called cucurbitacin, which can be present in the fruit as well as the foliage. Bitterness in cucumbers tends to be more prominent when plants are under stress from low moisture, high temperatures or poor nutrition. Although most areas of the state received abundant moisture earlier in the season, more recent hot, dry conditions have encouraged production of the bitter compound. Many modern cultivars have been developed that lack the bitter gene.

For some cucumber eaters, the bitter taste can be accompanied by a digestive discomfort known as a burp. Some of the newer cultivars of cucumbers do not have the bitter compound and thus, no burp. So, some seed companies called their bitter-free cukes "burpless."

Cucumber plant

The amount of bitterness in the cucumber depends on the severity of the heat and drought. In most cases, cutting off the stem end and removing the skin will remove much of the bitterness. Some fruits will be bitter all the way through, and should be discarded. Bitter cucumbers will not taste any better when pickled!

Watering during droughty periods to provide 1 to 1 1/2 inches of water in a slow, gentle application will help keep bitterness out of subsequent fruits. Apply a mulch, such as straw, shredded bark, or newspaper to help cool the soil, conserve moisture and keep weeds under control.

Next year, your best bet is to plant bitter-free cultivars and provide optimum growing conditions, when possible. Many cultivars are listed as being bitter-free, including Carmen, County Fair, Diva, Garden Sweet, Green Knight, Marketmore 76, Sweet Slice, Slice More, Sweet Success, Sweeter Yet, and Tasty Green. New cultivars arrive each year, so be sure to read through next season's garden catalogs and websites to find the bitter-free types.

Writer: B. Rosie Lerner
Editor: Cindie Gosnell