Why Do My Cucumbers Taste Bitter?

Why Do My Cucumbers Taste Bitter?

By Michael Jenkins

Cucumbers are the ideal summer vegetable. Crisp, refreshing, and delicious, cucumbers are a flexible ingredient or condiment for many favorite hot-weather meals. Growing your own cucumbers is a great way to ensure that you have plenty, and the good news is that they’re generally a pretty easy vegetable to plant and tend in the home garden. However, things can go wrong when growing cucumbers and sometimes do even for the most experienced gardeners. One of the most common complaints we hear from home gardeners is that their cucumbers have started to taste bitter—even from plants that had previously produced delicious ones. So why do cucumbers taste bitter? What causes a bitter taste in a normally delicious cuke? Let’s dig in and learn a bit more about cucumbers, their life cycle, and their nutritional and environmental needs!

Before we begin, a quick safety note: internet rumor to the contrary, bitter cucumbers are safe to eat and absolutely no more dangerous than a typical cucumber. All other things being equal, nothing bad will happen if you eat a bitter-tasting cuke. Some people actually like them as they add a bit of “bite” to salads, raw salsas, and similar recipes.

What Makes Cucumbers Taste Bitter?

Let’s start by addressing what causes bitter tasting cucumbers, because once we know the possible causes behind the bitter-tasting cukes we can start implementing solutions. As it turns out, “cucumbers tasting bitter” is like “yellowing leaves on a tomato plant”—there are a number of potential causes such that it’s difficult to diagnose from that single symptom alone:

  • Nutritional deficiencies or poor soil health is a prime suspect when your cucumbers start tasting bitter. Cucumbers are heavy feeders, taking  a great deal of mineral and organic nutrition from the soil. When cukes start tasting bitter, it’s a sign that there may not be enough “food” for them in the soil
  • Hot or dry conditions can also result in bitter-tasting cucumbers. Cucumbers need a lot of water to thrive, and despite being a popular summer veggie they don’t always react well to extremes of temperature. When the thermometer is reading high and/or there hasn’t been much rain, your cucumbers may start to taste bitter.
  • Ironically your cucumbers may start tasting bitter if they receive too little sun. Cucumbers that grow in the shade, are shaded by other plants, or are subject to long stretches of overcast weather may take on a bitter flavor.
  • Competition from other plants may lead to bitter tasting cucumbers. Weeds or close neighbors may rob your cukes of much needed nutrition and water, lock their access to the sun, or both. Cucumber vines are relatively picky and prefer to have plenty of space to themselves, and crowding may cause their fruit to start tasting bitter.
  • Finally, some varietals of cucumber just taste bitter, and you may be growing one of those. To prevent this issue, stick with popular “sweet” or “burpless” varietals, which tend to have a much nicer flavor.

Prevent Bitter Tasting Cucumbers

So now that we know the “why”, how do we go about preventing our plants form producing bitter-tasting cucumbers? As we’ve discovered, it can be a little tricky to diagnose the exact cause of bitter-tasting cukes, so we suggest taking steps that support the overall health of your cucumber vines and help ensure their produce is delicious.

  • Refresh your soil with good compost or fertilizers. You may want to try a combination of both by gently mixing an inch or two (2.5-5cm) of compost into the soil around your cukes—use your fingers and go slowly so you don’t disturb the roots too much—and then watering with a mild liquid fertilizer. Giving your cucumber vines some extra nutrition may help address the bitter taste, and it will definitely help support their overall health and longevity.
  • Ensure that your cucumbers are getting the right amount of water. How much water is the right amount will depend on the time of year and your weather conditions, but keeping the soil around your cukes damp is generally a good idea in hot weather. A long soak early in the morning or as the sun is going down is best, as it allows the plant plenty of time to absorb the water before the sun heats up.
  • Managing the amount of shade your cucumbers get can help address the problem of bitter-tasting fruit. Cukes that get too much heat and sun may need some relief, so erecting a shade cover may help a good deal. Cucumber plants that aren’t getting enough sun may need the plants around them to be weeded or pruned in order to make sure that there’s enough sun for them to thrive. This is a tricky diagnosis, so you’ll need to play detective and pay close attention to your plants in order to take the correct course of action.

Cucumbers are popular plants for a reason. They’re generally fairly easy to grown, but like all plants things can happen. Gardening is all about learning, experimentation, and trying new things, so if you’re dealing with bitter-tasting cucumbers from your garden view it as a chance to learn a bit more about these wonderful plants and how they grow. If you have your own tips or tricks for fixing bitter cukes, let us know!

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