Why Do English Cucumbers Come Wrapped in Plastic?

What's with the royal treatment?
What's with the royal treatment? / Esben_H/iStock via Getty Images

It doesn’t take a botany degree for you to know that English cucumbers—also called hothouse, seedless, or European cucumbers—are generally considered superior to regular cucumbers. All it really takes is a glance at the price tags: English cucumbers are typically more expensive.

And while they are often several inches longer than their garden-variety counterparts, the differences go beyond size. (Though your cat may be equally scared of both kinds.) According to The Spruce Eats, English cucumbers have much smaller seeds and thinner skin, which gives them a sweeter flavor than classic cukes. But that extra fine skin comes with downsides, too. 

For one, as The Kitchn explains, it makes them especially susceptible to getting nicked, bruised, or otherwise damaged throughout the packing and shipping process. Their thin peels can also make them spoil more quickly, as they’re not as well equipped to keep water in and oxygen out. Wrapping them in plastic provides an extra layer of protection against these problems.

Since it seems like those dangers have mostly passed once you get your English cucumbers home from the grocery store, you might think it’s fine to unwrap them before sticking them in the fridge. But the plastic can extend their shelf life, so it’s probably best to leave it on until you’re ready to slice and serve them. A plastic-covered cuke could still be in great condition after some 10 days in your refrigerator.

But single-use plastics are a major environmental issue, and innovators are looking for ways to get the benefits of shrink-wrapping fruits and vegetables without the shrink wrap itself. A company called Apeel, for example, coats produce with a lipid-based liquid that essentially mimics and amplifies what a natural peel does: seals in moisture while warding off air. It won’t necessarily prevent English cucumbers from getting banged up on the way to the grocery aisle, but it can help keep them fresh during the journey.

[h/t The Kitchn]