If you look at them from a distance, you might mistake them for large lemons. First appearing in United States seed catalogs between 1894 and 1905, these round yellow cucumbers are typically grown as a novelty. On occasion, if you’re lucky, you may spot this heirloom vegetable at your local farmers market in the summer.
Lemon cucumbers have a thin, tender skin. Their flavor is sweet and slightly milder than its long, green cousin. About the size of a tennis ball, they are the perfect single-serving.
They are believed to have originated in India, where they have a large presence in the cuisine. A common ingredient in dal, pickles and chutney, lemon cucumbers are popular in India for their cooling properties that help fight summer heat.
Lemon cucumber sweeps the nation
In 1909, a story appeared in newspapers across the nation about a new “freak” vegetable. George Brown, a graduate from the agricultural department of the University of Wisconsin, claimed the creation of the “lemon cucumber.” According to Brown, he spent six years working to perfect the new round, yellow cucumber.
While there is little to prove Brown’s claim beyond his own word, the addition of this sunny vegetable is sure to be a conversation starter.
Using lemon cucumbers
When selecting a lemon cucumber, size and age matter. Younger cucumbers have thinner skin and are lighter in their yellow color. Older cucumbers, however, are sweeter. The older cucumber has a slightly thicker skin and is darker in color. They also have a crisper texture.
Lemon cucumbers can really be used in the same way regular cucumbers are. They can be eaten raw, tossed in salads, and pickled. They can also be juiced and added to cocktails or smoothies.
While you can certainly slice them like a regular cucumber, slicing them like a pie — from tip to stem — gives you a better ratio of skin to flesh to seeds. These little yellow jewels are best paired with tomatoes, summer squash, fresh herbs, soft cheese, olives, and vinegar.
For a unique treat, cut the cucumber width-wise, scoop out the meat, and stuff the hull with cold soup or crab salad.
Storing your lemon cucumbers
Storing cucumbers to temperatures below 50°F will hasten their decay, so it’s best to use your cucumbers within one to two days of purchase. If you need to store them longer, wrap them in a dry paper towel, then place them in a plastic bag for storage in a warmer part of your refrigerator — like the door or a temperature-controlled crisper. They will keep up to three days in the refrigerator.
What is the best thing about the lemon cucumber? It’s burpless!