Pickled cucumbers are popular, but not when they’re fresh from the garden. So what to do if the harvest tastes sour or bitter?

Are bitter cucumbers dangerous?

In order to protect living beings from poisoning, nature has arranged it to give poisonous plants a bitter taste. Bitterness is therefore always an indication that a fruit is not edible. Bitter cucumbers are no exception. The culprits are so-called cucurbitacins, bitter substances that are often found in cucurbits, which also include cucumbers.

The highest content is deposited at the base of the stem. The cucumber tastes milder towards the bottom.

Tip: Gardeners should always carry out a taste test before processing cucumbers they have grown themselves. For this he tastes a bite from the base of the stem. If the cucumber tastes really bitter, he immediately spits it out again. In this case, the vegetable is not suitable for consumption.


The bitter or toxin cucurbitacin is harmless when consumed in small amounts. Since the inedible aroma can be clearly tasted even with small amounts, people usually spit out the poisonous fruit quickly and thus protect themselves from health side effects. Especially with children and pets, this instinct is a great advantage.

However, in high amounts, cucurbitacin can have serious consequences. There are even reports that eating contaminated gourds related to cucumbers has resulted in death in some people.


Commercial cucumbers are known for their mild, sometimes almost tasteless aroma. The reason for this is that food producers cultivate the bitter substances from the vegetables. However, if the gardener grows cucumbers in his garden at home, there is a risk that the cucurbitacins will form again. The following factors favor education:

  • long dry period during ripening
  • too much fertilizer
  • cold water
  • other stress factors
  • introduced by pollen
Note: Despite strict controls and care in the breeding, it cannot be ruled out that there are also bitter specimens among the cucumbers from the supermarket. Even organic goods can contain cucurbitacins.

symptoms after consumption

  • Stomach and intestinal problems
  • nausea
  • Vomit
  • diarrhea
  • dizzy spells
  • circulatory complaints

Still suitable for consumption

Does the gardener really have to destroy the entire harvest as soon as a cucumber tastes bitter? No, fortunately the fruits are still edible with little bitterness. The prerequisite for this is that the gardener generously removes the questionable parts of the plant and pays attention to the correct procedure during processing. If he peels the cucumber incorrectly, the cucurbitacin will spread throughout the flesh. This is how he prepares his vegetables correctly:

  • Wash the fruit thoroughly
  • peel the cucumber only towards the stalk
  • Cut off the end of the stem generously

No danger with sour cucumbers

On the other hand, if cucumbers taste sour, there is no health risk in the sense of poisoning. In this case, the unpleasant taste is due to spoiled fruit. Spoilage is usually due to improper storage. Cucumbers don’t like the cold, so they don’t belong in the fridge. The interior gets muddy very quickly here. The gardener should only keep cut specimens in the vegetable drawer and use them up as soon as possible. In addition, he should store cucumbers separately from apples, as the fruit promotes the ripening process.

It is also possible that the vegetables have already suffered frost before harvest. Even then, the fruit tastes sour. Whether or not the gardener still enjoys them is up to him. As long as the cucumbers don’t show any mold, he can use them in a salad or pickle them in oil and vinegar.

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