English cucumbers, also called hothouse or seedless cucumbers, are readily available year round in grocery stores and have a similar taste and texture to other cucumbers that are eaten raw. Unlike other cucumber varieties, however, they are often shrink-wrapped in plastic to help retain moisture and freshness. Although this packaging can help English cucumbers to have a longer shelf life, it can make it difficult to see or feel the texture, which should be smooth and firm. Some cucumber varieties may be streaked with yellow, but the best English cucumbers are usually bright or dark green with little color variation and no visible soft or rotten spots. Some people also prefer to choose the thinnest English cucumbers because the seeds will usually be smaller and less noticeable.
Some cooks prefer to use English cucumbers because they don’t have to be peeled — the skin is usually mild tasting and thin. These cucumbers are also often advertised in grocery stores as seedless, but the seeds are actually just smaller and less noticeable than in a conventional variety. Some people do not like the texture of cucumber seeds; others notice that they become bitter as the cucumber gets older. As with other cucumber varieties, many people prefer the thinnest English cucumber available because they believe it will have smaller seeds.
As with most produce, the freshest English cucumbers are usually the best. Shoppers should choose an English cucumber that is firm, indicating a high moisture content, and that is free of visible rotten spots. An English cucumber should also have a smooth texture, unlike some pickling varieties whose skins are rough and bumpy. All cucumbers lose moisture after they are picked, and puckered or wrinkled skin can also be a sign of age or improper storage.
While the skin of regular cucumbers may be waxed to preserve freshness, English cucumbers are usually wrapped in plastic. This packaging can be an advantage because unwaxed skin usually doesn’t have to be peeled and the wrapped cucumbers can often be stored for a longer time in the refrigerator after they are purchased. It can, however, make choosing the best English cucumber more difficult, because it cannot be smelled or touched to check for soft spots that may not be visible through the skin. Sometimes food co-ops or farmers markets in some areas may sell unwaxed English cucumber varieties that are not wrapped in plastic and can be more closely examined.