Is the End of a Cucumber Really Bad For You?

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Helen Foster
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Do you still throw away the last inch of a cucumber because you’ve been told you shouldn’t eat it? Me too – but today, I decided to find out whether there’s any truth in the rumour. And here’s what I discovered.

Row of cucumbers stacked together showing the ends.

As I made my sandwich for lunch today, Mr Wellness Nerd was making a salad next to me. As I handed over the cucumber, I said to him, ‘My grandad always told me never to eat the end of the cucumber.’ ‘My mum said the same thing,’ he replied. Neither of us ever knew why or questioned it, and we have been binning an inch off the end of everyone we’ve chopped ever since.

All I remember was that my grandad’s theory mentioned something about the lack of seeds, which, now I know a bit more about nutrition, makes no logical sense as, if anything is usually going to be poisonous in a plant, it’s the seed (see apples – don’t panic, you need to eat a lot of them).

However, now I know the answer to this question, I see what he was talking about.

What’s at the End of Cucumbers?

Well, there is something you might want to avoid.

All plants in the Cucurbitaceae family, of which cucumbers are one, contain a chemical called cucurbitacin. This is a bitter compound designed to stop pests from eating the plant. It’s found in the highest concentrations in the leaves and stem of the plant but also collects at the end of the cucumber and in the peel.

If growing conditions are unfavourable, too dry, not enough sun or not enough moisture, higher levels of cucurbitacin are produced, and these can make the end of the cucumber, or sometimes the whole thing, taste bitter.

As a proud gardener, that was probably why my grandad didn’t want me to eat the ends. His point about seeds was that these contain the lowest levels of cucurbitacin.

Is it Actually Bad For You?

So, while it doesn’t taste nice, is cucurbitacin actually bad for you?

Yes and no. Cucurbitacins can induce toxicity in high doses – but the amount in a couple of slices off the end of a cucumber isn’t going to cause major damage. In fact, scientists think these compounds could be quite powerful medicines, but one problem in confirming this is that the amounts in plants are only small so they can’t collect enough to study effectively.

However, if the whole cucumber tastes bitter, you might want to throw it away because a) it’ll put you off salad for a while and b) it might upset your stomach.

I mean, this does make sense. If the end of cucumbers were actually making people sick, I’m pretty sure they’d be cut off before they reached the supermarket and wreaked havoc among the salad-munching population!

So, the moral of this story is, yes, you can eat the end of the cucumber, but you might not want to if you want it to taste the best – and especially not if you’re a supertaster who is more sensitive to bitterness than the rest of us. And, if you want to find that out, you need to go to this post

Oh, and while some gardeners suggest rubbing the end of the cucumber to help disperse the bitter compounds, there’s no proof of this – and unless you want the neighbours talking about you, it’s probably best not to try it in the supermarket.