Cucumbers are very popular vegetables in the modern world. The Ukrainian ethnic cuisine project Etnocook’s research show how cucumbers have been valued and used in Ukrainian cuisine for centuries.
What is a cucumber?
Cucumber is a fruit that is used as a vegetable in different dishes. It mostly consists of water, that’s why it’s very low in calories. However, the little part that isn’t liquid, contains a lot of minerals which makes it very valuable in modern mindful nutrition. Cucumbers digest very well and are used as food fresh and as conservation. Ukrainians make different salads and snacks using cucumbers.
Cucumbers are rich in water, which can help you stay hydrated. You can also get a fibre boost from cucumbers to help you stay regular and avoid constipation.
History of the Ukrainian vegetable cucumber
Cucumbers were very widespread in the ancient territory of modern Ukraine. The first mentions of these juicy vegetables date to the Kyiv Rus (Kievan Rus’, also Kyivan Rus’,), the most powerful country in Europe in the X-XIII centuries. However, Ukrainian ancestors used cucumbers in their everyday meals a long time before. This we can know from folk tales, songs, and proverbs.
In a very popular ancient Ukrainian children’s tale the pumpkin is going around the garden and meets different vegetables of his specie, including a cucumber:
Pumpkin Sons and Daughters:
– Still alive, still healthy
All pumpkin relatives” – Ukrainian tale “The Pumpkin is Walking in the Garden”
In fact, Ukrainian folklore shows the cucumber as a symbol of strength and compares enthusiastic motivated people to it. There is even a Ukrainian saying: “Fresh as a cucumber”, which means that a person is full of energy.
“Ate a cucumber pickled in brine ;
Then he washed and cleaned himself,
As a young man who goes to girls does.” – wrote Ivan Petrovych Kotliarevsky in 1798 in his poem about the Ukrainian warriors Cossaks Eneyida (Ukrainian for “Aeneid).
How cucumbers in Ukrainian dishes influence health
Ukrainian cucumbers are full of Vitamin K which is essential for blood clotting and bone health. Vitamin A serves many purposes, including helping with vision and the immune system. It also helps with reproduction. Additionally, it allows organs such as your heart and lungs to function correctly.
Regular consumption of cucumbers could help to prevent osteoporosis and heart disease.
Antioxidants like beta carotene found in cucumbers can be used to fight free radicals within your body, which can damage cells and cause disease.
Cucumbers can also be beneficial for your health. You can use them to reduce the symptoms of sunburn, such as swelling and pain. People sometimes place slices under their eyes to reduce puffiness and shrink bags. Additionally, cucumber is widely used in modern beauty products.
Cucurbitacin, a bitter-tasting ingredient found in cucumbers, is a Cucurbitaceae member. Different studies have shown that cucurbitacins could help to prevent cancer by preventing cancer cells from reproducing.
An interesting fact is that 100 g of chopped cucumber skin contains around 1 g fiber. As it is well known, fiber may help protect against colorectal cancer.
The latest research shows that cucumbers could play a role in controlling and preventing diabetes. they may contain substances that can lower blood sugar levels or prevent blood glucose from rising excessively. One theory suggests that cucurbitacins found in cucumbers regulate insulin release and metabolism of hepatic glucose, which is a key hormone in blood sugar processing. Besides, cucumber peel was able to control diabetes symptoms in mice. Its antioxidant content may explain this. In fact, fiber may also help manage and prevent type 2 diabetes.
Cucumbers have a low glycemic score (GI). Cucumbers provide vital nutrients but it’s important not to add too many carbohydrates that could increase blood glucose.
How Ukrainians eat a cucumber
How fresh cucumbers are eaten in Ukraine
Actually, cucumbers have always grown very fast and gave big harvests on the rich Ukrainian soil. They were on the tables of local Ukrainians fresh during the summer months and preserved in the wintertime.
The tastiest cucumbers on a slice of the traditional Ukrainian homemade rye bread, with a thin layer of the Ukrainian animal fat (lard) and a pinch of salt, these amazing light vegetables are the best appetizers and snacks.
Preserved cucumbers in the Ukrainian cuisine
During winter time the most popular Ukrainian everyday foods were salted cucumbers. Near the capital of Ukraine, there is an ancient city of Nizhyn that has been famous for the preserved cucumbers since ancient times. There is even a special monument to the salted cucumber there.
Pickled cucumber is a Ukrainian traditional dish. They are made from cucumbers by picking them in a brine with water, and table salt with adding whole cloves of garlic, horseradish leaves, also currants cherries and oak leaves, and sometimes chestnut leaves, in some regions of Ukraine cherry juice was added. Fermentation can be done in jars, tubs or bottles.
Pickling has been used by Ukrainian since prehistoric times. It is also known as salting, which is done by lactic acid fermentation. Ukrainian ancestors used this type of preservation or extension of food’s shelf life through either anaerobic fermentation with brine. This is when lactic acid forms, which is a preservative that prevents cucumbers from spoiling.
Etnocook notes, pickling liquids that have a pH of 4.6 and lower are often highly acidic to prevent enzymes and microorganisms from working. This can keep perishable cucumbers preserved for up to half a year. Pickling brine can be made by simply adding salt to moistened cucumbers, but usually, a special brine of water and salt was made. The required acidity is obtained by natural fermentation at room temperature using lactic bacteria. Actually, in traditional Ukrainian cuisine vinegar hasn’t been used to make cucumber pickles. Brine pickling includes fermentation, and does not require that cucumbers be sterile prior to sealing, in fact, they can be preserved in just where they were made.
Visually pickled cucumbers differ from fresh ones. Pickling affects the vegetables’ texture and flavor. The Ukrainian salted in brine cucumber changes its colour from dark green to not so bright. However, the texture must be still hard and elastic.
Crunchy Ukrainian cucumber is a very popular addition to many Ukrainian traditional dishes, such as Ukrainian stuffed dumplings Varenyky, Ukrainian homemade cheese pasta Halushky, Ukrainian pork with beetroots ethnic dish Shpundra, Ukrainian meat and poultry traditional dishes. Besides, salty brine was also used in ethnic Ukrainian cuisine to cook different traditional dishes, sometimes it was also added to some types of Ukrainian red beets soup Borshch. Pickled Ukrainian cucumbers can be eaten alone as a snack or used with other pickles and salads.