Culinary Arts

What’s the Difference Between Cucumbers and Zucchini?

Written by MasterClass

Jun 10, 2019 • 3 min read

They’re both gourds, they’re both green, and they’re both technically fruit—although we treat them as vegetables. They’re cucumber and zucchini, two plants that are frequently confused for each other but that each have a character all of their own, with uses ranging from raita to pickles and cake to courgetti. Here’s how to tell the difference between the green genies.

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What Is a Cucumber?

With a cylindrical shape, dark green skin and pale flesh, the cucumber is cultivated in many parts of the world and eaten as a vegetable. Cucumber plants (Latin name cucumis sativus) are members of the gourd family, which are together also known as cucurbitaceae.

What Does Cucumber Taste Like?

Cucumbers have a mild, lightly sweet flavour due to their high water content. They are crisp, cool and refreshing to eat raw—hence the saying “cool as a cucumber.” Cucumber skin has an earthier taste, but many people leave it on for its texture, flavor and health benefits. If cooked, cucumbers wilt but maintain a slight crunch.

How Is a Cucumber Used in Cooking?

Cucumbers are almost always eaten raw, in dishes such as salads, sandwiches and raita. Cucumber salads often involve other vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, avocados and red onions, and a dressing of olive oil with vinegar or lemon juice. Cucumbers are rarely cooked, except in some Asian stir-fries.

However, cucumbers are even more versatile than that. Their cooling quality sometimes sees them added to juices or infused into water. And some varieties of cucumber are specially cultivated for pickling, such as gherkins.

What Is a Zucchini?

Also cylindrical, dark green on the outside, and pale on the inside, zucchini are often mistaken for cucumbers at first sight, and the two are related. The zucchini plant is also a type of gourd, but of the species cucurbita pepo—the same as pumpkins and squashes.

Zucchinis are a type of summer squash, meaning they are harvested while they’re immature so the skin is still tender and edible.

What Does Zucchini Taste Like?

Zucchini have a mild flavour, slightly sweet and slightly bitter, with a rich feel. The sweetness in zucchini becomes more evident when it is cooked. Cooking also serves to soften zucchini, although it is tender to bite into even raw.

How Is a Zucchini Used in Cooking?

More often than not, zucchini is cooked. It is commonly roasted or baked alongside other vegetables such as eggplant, peppers, pumpkin, squash and potatoes. Other popular recipes are ratatouille, fritters, and stuffed baked zucchini. It can also be used in sweet treats similar to banana bread or carrot cake.

Raw zucchini sometimes appears in salads or julienned into strips as a low-carb replacement for pasta. In the latter case, the “courgetti” can also be flash boiled.

Cucumber vs Zucchini: What's the Difference?

Given their similar appearance, cucumber and zucchini are often confused for each other. Here are the main differences to note:

  • Appearance. While alike to cucumber in shape and color, zucchini have woody stems at one end, and sometimes a flower on the other. Those are the plant’s female flowers, which grow in a large golden blossom and are sometimes eaten as well. Cut them open and both the zucchini and cucumber have seedy flesh, but the cucumber’s has a pale green tinge, while the zucchini’s is more of a creamy white. Cucumber seeds are usually visible running down the middle of the fruit, while the zucchini’s are smaller and blend into the flesh.
  • Touch. Cucumbers are generally hard, waxy, and cool to the touch, while zucchini are more warm and yielding, with a slight grittiness under the fingertips. Most cucumbers have a bumpy exterior, although some varieties, such as the smaller Lebanese cucumbers, have smooth skin.
  • Taste. If there’s coolness and crunch, it’s almost certainly a cucumber.
  • Use. If it’s been cooked in a dish, it’s most likely a zucchini—the cucumber is generally favored raw or pickled.
  • Nutritional values. In terms of calorie content, the zucchini and cucumber are actually similarly light. 100g of zucchini contains 17 calories, while cucumber has 15 with its skin and 12 without. Zucchini is notable for being a good source of Vitamin C, however, providing 29% of the recommended daily intake in 100g, as well as 10 percent of recommended Vitamin B6. The most nutrient-dense part of the cucumber is the skin, which contains fiber and the antioxidant beta-carotene. Both vegetables also carry some Vitamin K, magnesium, and potassium.
  • Plants. Distinguish between zucchini and cucumber in a vegetable patch by looking at how they are growing. Both have large heart-shaped leaves, but zucchini protrude out from the stems of the plants, while cucumbers hang from theirs like grapes on a vine.

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