iStock/Getty Images

Can you Substitute Cucumber for Zucchini?

At the beginning of the ongoing COVID pandemic, I switched to grocery pickup for most of my shopping needs. Once while using Whole Foods' pickup service, I ordered zucchini because it is a versatile vegetable to have on hand when you're not sure what to cook that week. Imagine my surprise when I unpacked my groceries and found a cucumber instead of a zucchini! Shrugging it off as a hurried employee mistaking the two vegetables, I took my L, and turned cucumber into cucumber-nade, and made a tasty salad. Lo and behold, the same swap took place during my next Whole Foods pickup. I flung any empathy out of the window, and this time I was livid. Zucchini vs. cucumber has no place in the world.

This is Whole Foods, the American gold-standard of grocery store produce—spotting the difference between a zucchini and a cucumber should probably come up in the interview. Since hyper-focusing on this minor inconvenience was a better alternative than panicking about the global pandemic worsening every day, I had to get to the bottom of this mystery. I reached out to a contact at Whole Foods, and they spilled the beans. As it turns out, Whole Foods actually lists cucumbers as a proper substitution for zucchini. I was flabbergasted. What could be the reason for this madness?

zucchini vs cucumber cucumber salad

iStock/Getty Images

Similarities between the two are stronger than I originally thought. Cucumber (Cucumis sativus) and zucchini (Cucurbita pepo) are both a type of gourd (think melons and pumpkins), which could contribute to the similarities in appearance. Both vegetables are typically long, green, and textured on the outside with seeds in the middle.

Cucumber variations include English, Persian, and Kirby. Cucumbers are mainly eaten raw, and are delicious when eaten alone, in a sandwich, or as a salad component. Zucchini can also be eaten raw but is primarily consumed cooked. It is a mainstay in stir fries, and you can expect to see it included in any hibachi takeout. While both cucumber and zucchini are low calorie foods, zucchini is sometimes used as a substitute in desserts variations, such as zucchini banana bread and zucchini brownies.

Strictly speaking about taste, cucumbers are fresh, mild in flavor, and sweet due to their high water content. Zucchini is also mild, but tastes more like grass, with slightly bitter and sweet notes. Both zucchini and cucumber are great additions to meals because of their ability to be carriers for stronger flavors.

zucchini vs cucumber spiral

iStock/Getty Images

When it comes down to zucchini vs. cucumber, they should be stored differently. Cucumbers should be stored above 50°F (your kitchen counter should do), and zucchini will last 4-5 days stored in the refrigerator crisper drawer while in a plastic bag.

I still don't know why Whole Foods thinks it's fine and dandy to give someone a cucumber when they ask for a zucchini, but honestly it's not the end of the world to cook a cucumber in a stir fry. To apply this principle, try using zucchini noodles as a base in your next poke bowl or include raw zucchini in your next Instagram-worthy charcuterie spread.

READ: Science Says Cucumbers Belong in Fruit Salad