There are two basic types of cucumbers, those eaten fresh—called slicing cucumbers—and those grown for pickling.
Slicing cucumbers are the most common type seen in supermarkets. They’re usually 6 to 9 inches long and have glossy, dark-green skin and tapering ends. After harvesting, the skin is often waxed for longer shelf-life.
Pickling cucumbers, on the other hand, are not commonly found in supermarkets, but are sold at farmers’ markets and in specialty produce stores. There are numerous varieties, all referred to simply as “pickle” or “pickling” cucumbers. All the varieties tend to be smaller and squatter than the typical slicing cucumber. One of the best-known pickling cucumbers is the small, bumpy-skinned gherkin.
The familiar dark green slicing and hothouse cucumbers are available year round, as are Armenian and Japanese cucumbers. Other specialty cucumbers tend to be more seasonal.
In addition to the common green slicing cucumber, here are some types of cucumbers you may find in supermarkets or farmers’ markets:
- Armenian (snake melon, snake cucumber): These extra-long, twisted cucumbers have thin, dark green skin that’s marked with paler green longitudinal furrows. As it ripens, the fruit turns yellow and releases an aroma not unlike its relative the muskmelon. This slicing cucumber is mild in flavor.
- Hothouse (English) cucumbers: Most of these varieties originated in Europe, so they’re sometimes called European or English cucumbers. They tend to be thin, smooth-skinned, and 1 to 2 feet in length. The majority are also seedless, or nearly so. For that reason, many people find hothouse cucumbers easier to digest. They’re sometimes called burpless cucumbers. They have a milder flavor than field-grown cucumbers and are usually more expensive because they are grown in hothouses.
- Japanese cucumbers (kyuri): Japanese cucumbers are dark green and slender, with tiny bumps and thin skin. You can eat both the skin and the small seeds. They have a crisp texture and sweet flesh.
- Kirby cucumbers: The vast majority of kirbies grown are turned into commercial dill pickles, but they are also sold fresh. Many cooks prefer kirbies because they are usually unwaxed and have thin skin, crisp flesh, and tiny seeds.
- Lemon cucumbers: About the size of a lemon, with pale lemony skin that turns golden-yellow as the cucumber matures, this cucumber has a very delicate, sweet flavor and crisp texture.
- Persian (Sfran) cucumbers: Similar to the slicing cucumber, but shorter, squatter, and more compact, Persian cucumbers are crunchy and watery.