Cucumber Primer: Kirby, Gherkin, English, and More…

updated Jul 24, 2022
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(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

We remember the first time we heard the term “kirby” and had no idea it was a type of cucumber.

That was a while ago, and these days, we can easily find kirby cucumbers as well as shrink-wrapped seedless ones in our grocery aisle.

There are dozens of garden varieties you can grow, but we thought we’d take a look at some of the basic cucumbers you see at the farmers’ markets that are most commonly used by home cooks. Read on for our list…

Slicing cucumbers are what you probably think of with this fruit: around 8-10 inches long, fat, and full of watery seeds. The skin can be thick and waxed (if you buy it in the grocery store), so they usually require peeling. “Slicing” is a catchall term for tons of varieties, including the ones in the image above, taken from a garden tutorial at Martha Stewart’s website.

Kirby cucumbers are small, usually 6 inches long or less, with bumpy skins and firm flesh. They are the most common variety of pickling cucumbers (and are usually recommended in pickle recipes) but we also love them in salads and diced into gazpacho. Super crunchy and mild in flavor.

English cucumbers are the long, semi-seedless variety that usually come wrapped in plastic if you buy them in the grocery store. The only explanation we can find for the shrink wrapping is that it protects the skin (which is un-waxed and sweeter than that of a slicer) and prevents water loss. They are called seedless simply because the seeds are smaller and less noticeable. Like kirby cukes, the insides are firmer and less spongy than a slicer. We tend to buy these if we’re making tzatziki or anything where we need our cucumbers to be drained and dry, but they are also delicious to eat alone, since you don’t have to peel them.

Japanese cucumbers are very similar to English ones, just bumpier in texture. We don’t see these very often in the market. Do you?

Gherkins, also called cornichons, are actually not cucumbers, but since that fact was interesting to us, we’re throwing them in here. They are very closely related to cukes, but not exactly the same plant family. Gherkins are picked very small, and are almost always found pickled. Perfect as a briny accompaniment to a cheese plate or charcuterie.