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Cucumber Tastes Like Metal – What Causes It?

Although they don’t have the craziest flavor, Cucumbers are somehow so delicious and refreshing! Sometimes they can be sweet, or maybe just a little bitter, giving them an extra taste. I know how exciting it is to grow cucumbers, and then you get to the kitchen, start to cut them open, take a bit, and- what?! Metal? Have you been experiencing metal-tasting cucumbers? It’s not so uncommon and can happen to anyone.

There are several reasons why cucumbers can taste bitter or like metal. What it comes down to is it is the plant’s defense mechanism against being really stressed. Bitterness and metallic tastes come from the amount of cucurbitacins the plant gives off as it grows. The more stressed out it is, the more cucurbitacins are produced. 

To learn more about metal-tasting cucumbers and how to stop it from happening again, please read on.

What Are Cucurbitacins?

Cucurbitacins are terpenes found inside vegetables of cucurbits family. This family includes squash, pumpkins, zucchinis, gourds, and cucumbers. They are found in all these plants but are produced more when the plant is stressed.

These terpenes are funny because they are medicinal but, in large quantities, can be toxic. Ancient peoples would use cucurbitacins as an anti-inflammatory. Today we have found that cucurbitacins may help prevent cancer and have anti-diabetic effects.

However, cucurbitacins are toxic in large quantities. The terpene will give off a very bitter taste and can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, which leads to why cucumbers taste bitter: a large output of cucurbitacins due to stress.

What Causes Cucumbers Stress?

Lots of different factors can cause stress to a cucumber plant. Below I’ve created a list of why cucumber plants get stressed out.

  1. Weather
    • One of the biggest things that causes cucumber stress is the weather. Cucumbers do best in weather around 65-85. They do very poorly in scorching weather and do very poorly in freezing weather. Dry weather is another thing that can significantly affect cucumbers and make them taste bitter.
  2. Uneven Watering
    • Cucumbers need about 1-2 inches of water a week, especially if it is hot outside. They do much better when they constantly have a water supply. If their roots are unevenly watered or not getting enough water, the plant will stress out and become bitter.
  3. Disease
    • Like all vegetables, cucumbers are prone to many different kinds of diseases. When the plant gets sick, it causes a lot of strain on the plant (don’t you feel strained and stressed when you’re sick?). Diseases like powdery mildew, bacterial wilt, root rot, etc., will affect vegetables.
  4. Pests
    • Pests can devastate a garden and eat through so many vegetables. Cucumbers’ biggest pest problems come from aphids, cabbage loopers, beetles, thrips, slugs, etc.
  5. Poor Nutrition
    • To grow happy, healthy, good-tasting cucumbers, you need to have the right fertilizer, so they have fuel to grow. Cucumbers like a high potassium and high phosphorus diet, but they also need a little nitrogen to remain healthy. Without a good amount of these three nutrients, you will get cucumbers that don’t taste very good.

How To Avoid Metal Tasting Cucumbers

Metal tasting cucumbers isn’t something we necessarily want out of our cucumber plants at the end of the year. Here is how you can avoid bitter cucumbers.

  1. Weather/water
    • Plant when the time is right. If you live in an area with hot, dry summers (like myself), plant your cucumbers somewhere where they get partial shade and keep them moist. I can’t stress that enough. To grow happy and healthy vegetables, they need to have enough liquid to keep them moist during those hotter months.
  2. Nutrients
    • As we have discussed, cucumbers are big on phosphorus, potassium, and a little bit of nitrogen. A great way to ensure that the plant gets what it needs is to plant your cucumber plants in the proper fertilizer. That alone will do wonders for your garden and the taste of your cucumbers. While they are growing, it is good to try and feed them these nutrients once a week or so to make sure they are getting what they need. Liquid feeds from your local garden supply store work perfectly.
  3. Pests and Disease
    • Unfortunately, there isn’t much we can do to stop bugs and diseases from coming. It is almost inevitable that a few creepy crawlers will wander onto your cucumber plants. Things like citronella traps, neem oil, or diatomaceous Earth are all great and all-natural things to put around your plants to ward off bugs. You can also plant different herbs and flowers that some of these bugs hate around your cucumbers to help out too. As for disease, there isn’t much you can do until the disease shows itself. Then you take it from there.

Is It Okay to Eat Metal Tasting Cucumbers?

I did mention earlier that cucurbitacins are toxic in large quantities. So wouldn’t that mean bitter or metal tasting cucumbers are toxic to eat? Bitter cucumbers are okay to eat if the bitterness isn’t overpowering because this is when it can become toxic. It wouldn’t be the end of the world if you ate a cucumber that was too bitter; you may have an upset stomach, vomiting, or diarrhea.

How Can I Remove Bitter Taste From Cucumbers After Picking Them?

If you picked a bunch of cucumbers and tasted some that taste like metal, but you don’t want to waste anything, there are a few tricks you can try to eliminate the metal taste.

  1. Foam Method
    • The foam method is a commonly known trick but an odd one. Cut the stem side end off of your cucumber. Not a big slice; it just has to be a thin slice. Rub the sliced piece from where you cut it, and you will start to see white foam appear. That foam is the cucurbitacins. You can repeat the process on the other end. Since this process is getting rid of some of those cucurbitacins (which you see), it will help to get rid of any bitterness caused by the terpenes.
  2. Fork Method
    • Peel the cucumbers and cut the ends off. Run a fork up and down the cucumber a few times, making slight indents in the cucumber. Slice the cucumber and enjoy.
  3. Pickle Method
    • When in doubt, you can always try pickling the bitter cucumbers. The brine can help reduce a metal-tasting, bitter cucumber. This will only work well if your cucumbers aren’t too bitter, and you will have to let them sit in the brine for a few weeks before trying them.
  4. Add Salt
    • Salt is an excellent way to reduce metal or bitter-tasting cucumbers. It’s my favorite way as well. I like to peel my cucumbers, thinly slice the whole thing, and throw all the slices in a bowl with some salt and a little oil. That in itself is a delicious snack, but you can add all sorts of things to the dish if you’d like.

Metal or bitter-tasting cucumber is not uncommon and happens to almost everyone. Sometimes, it can be tricky to curate the perfect growing conditions for a cucumber plant to produce perfect cucumbers. Cucurbitacins are a fascinating thing, and it is interesting the effects they make on cucumbers and our bodies. Though toxic in large quantities, they are very medicinal in small quantities having anti-inflammatory and anti-diabetic traits. So make sure you eat your cucumbers!