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Zucchini vs. Cucumber: What’s the Difference?

Long, cylindrical in shape and usually green, zucchini and cucumber are often mistaken for one another. So it’s no wonder why people are constantly asking, “What’s the difference between zucchini vs. cucumber?”

They’re both types of gourds that are part of the cucurbit family, which also includes watermelons, pumpkins, and cantaloupes. Both are technically fruits, but most people group them with vegetables because they’re often prepared in savory dishes.

Although they have a lot in common, zucchinis and cucumbers are somewhat different foods. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about zucchini vs. cucumber.

Zucchini and cucumbers.  Have you wondered about the different between zucchini vs. cucumber?
What’s the difference between zucchini and cucumber?


What is Zucchini?

Zucchini is a type of summer squash. It likely originated in Italy and made its way to the United States in the 1920s.

Zucchinis come in many varieties. Most are green, but there are yellow zucchini varieties, too. Additionally, even green zucchinis can vary in their appearance on the outside. Some are solid, others are striped, and they can span different shades of green.

Dark green zucchini.

Despite the many different types of zucchini, they don’t vary too much in flavor. They do, however, vary in how they grow. So if you plan to plant zucchini in your garden, make sure to do some research on the specifics of each variety.


What is Cucumber?

Cucumber is an annual plant that grows on a vine. It most likely originated in India and made it to North America in the 1500s. The fruit is crisp and cool, with a high water content.

There are many different types of cucumbers, typically classified as slicing, pickling, or burpless cucumbers.

An assortment of cucumber varieties.
An assortment of cucumber varieties.

Slicing pickles are commonly grown to eat fresh, and they’re longer than pickling cucumbers. Pickling cucumbers are smaller than slicing cucumbers, and as their name suggests, they’re usually made into pickles.

Burpless cucumbers were bred to be low in cucurbitacin, the compound that gives them a bitter flavor and makes people prone to burping after consuming other types of cucumbers. This makes them great for snacking.



Zucchini vs. Cucumber in a Nutshell

Zucchini and cucumber vary in many ways. The most notable differences are how they taste and how they’re prepared because zucchini has a sweeter taste, while cucumber is more watery and bitter.

Sliced cucumbers.

These fruits also vary in more subtle ways. They have different appearances, especially on the inside, they grow differently, and they have different nutritional qualities.

All of these distinctions are explained in more detail below.



Appearance

Although zucchini and cucumber look pretty similar, there are several key ways that you can tell them apart.

On the outside, zucchini has a grainy appearance, whereas the exterior of a cucumber looks more waxy and shiny. Additionally, zucchini has a wood-like stem that gives them a distinct look.

Harvested zucchini.

The interior of these gourds is different, too (and perhaps even more so than their exteriors). Zucchini has a pale yellow or white-colored flesh, with small seeds that blend in. On the other hand, cucumber flesh is more of a pale-green shade. Their seeds are more prominent and typically run down the middle of the fruit.



Taste

The biggest difference between zucchini and cucumber is their taste. Zucchini has a mild, slightly sweet flavor, whereas cucumber is more watery and bitter.

Because of zucchini’s mild, almost bland, flavor, it often blends in with the other foods it’s prepared with. It’s rarely eaten by itself. Additionally, the skin has a more earthy flavor than the flesh, and this contributes to the gourd’s overall flavor profile, too.

Closeup of sliced zucchini.

Cucumber has a more distinct flavor than zucchini. These fruits can be sweet, but there’s a stronger bitter presence, too. Many describe the taste as cool and refreshing, mainly because of their high water content and other chemical compounds that are present.

Closeup of sliced cucumber.

These foods feel different when you’re eating them, too. Zucchini is relatively soft, while cucumber is crisper and even a bit crunchy.



How They’re Used

Another big difference between zucchini and cucumber is how they’re used. Zucchini is typically cooked, whereas cucumber is more often prepared cold.

Although zucchini is technically a fruit, it is often prepared like a vegetable. It’s extremely versatile and can be steamed, grilled, roasted, and fried, just to name a few popular options. If you want to get creative, try a no-noodle zucchini lasagna or a sweet zucchini bread.

Pasta made with zucchini "noodles."
Zucchini “noodles”

Cucumbers, on the other hand, are often served cold. But this doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of ways to prepare them!

They’re commonly served raw in salads, used for drinks, and made into pickles. If you have extra cucumbers on hand, try turning them into pickles with this classic dill pickle recipe.

Homemade pickled cucumbers.


Health Benefits of Zucchini vs. Cucumber

Zucchini and cucumber are both low in fat and calories, making them healthy options for eating and cooking.

A typical medium-sized zucchini contains 33 calories, six grams of carbs, five grams of sugar, two grams of protein, and two grams of fiber. It’s also about 95 percent water.

Closeup of chopped zucchini.

Zucchinis are also high in vitamin C and vitamin A, and they’re rich in antioxidants.

Medium-sized cucumbers are almost 97 percent water. They contain 20 calories, four grams of carbs, three grams of sugar, one gram of protein, and one gram of fiber.

Cucumbers are a good source of vitamin K, potassium, and vitamin C (though they have less vitamin C than zucchini).

Closeup of cucumber spears.

Overall, they’re both healthy fruits that will make a great addition to many different dishes!



Growing Zucchini vs. Cucumber

The last key difference between zucchini and cucumber is found in their plants and how they grow.

Cucumbers hanging from a plant's vines.
Cucumbers hanging from plant vines.

Cucumber grows on a creeping vine, and the fruits hang from the vine as they grow. Zucchini plants do not creep, and they grow more like a bush than cucumbers do. Zucchini fruits also grow from a stem that is wider than those of cucumbers.

Additionally, the flowers of zucchini plants are edible and often considered a delicacy. However, the flowers of a cucumber plant are not edible.

A fruit on a zucchini plant.
A zucchini plant.

Where to Buy Seeds

If you’re looking to grow one of these plants yourself, consider these seeds sold by one of our favorite seed retailers, Hoss Tools. They have several varieties of zucchini (including striped and yellow) and more than 20 cucumber varieties in different shapes and sizes.


Zucchini vs. Cucumber: Similar But Different

Cucumbers and zucchini with cherry tomatoes.
Cucumbers, zucchini, and cherry tomatoes.

Zucchinis and cucumbers are both wonderful fruits with many similarities, but they’re different plants with distinctions in their look, taste, how they grow, and how they’re usually prepared. Keep that in mind the next time you need to tell the difference between zucchini vs. cucumber!

Interested in more content about these fruits? Check out our Cucumber Plants page, or visit our other fruit and vegetable pages!