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Carotene cukes.

What would happen if, while tossing up a salad to go with dinner, you slice a recently purchased cucumber that is orange inside?

Today you might take it back to where you bought it and ask for your money back. A few years from now, though, you may be happy to know that this salad will have more nutrients than one made with the usual green cucumber.

After more than eight years of research, scientists at the U.S. Agricultural Research Service have developed a cucumber that has green skin, but is orange inside. It packs higher levels of beta carotene, five parts per million on average, than a regular cucumber's one ppm.

Beta carotene, a carotenoid, is found in yellow and orange foods. It aids eyesight and resistance to infection, as well as helps keep skin, hair, teeth, gums, and bones healthy.

Research shows that the antioxidant beta carotene possesses "cancer preventing compounds," according to Dr. Philipp Simon, an ARS plant geneticist who helped develop the new lines of cucumbers. In some studies, people with diets that include higher amounts of beta carotene also demonstrate a reduced risk for stroke and coronary heart disease.

This alternative source of beta carotene originates from new breeding lines cultivated by Simon and former University of Wisconsin graduate student John Navazio.

Simon became interested after reading about the Xishuangbannan cucumber grown in the Orient reported to have an internal orange color. In 1987 he received seeds of this breed and, along with Navazio, began intercrossing these cucumbers with typical U.S. cucumber varieties.

"In the progeny we looked for cucumbers with the orange color and characteristics necessary for U.S. production," Simon said. Throughout the following years, the two continued intercrossing the types and looking for the orange-colored inside, while retaining proper size and pickling capabilities essential for sale to the public. Now, although the varieties remain slightly variable, "we have the combinations of what we are looking for," said Simon. Further testing is under way and it will take a couple of years to sect exact varieties that reproduce consistently.

While in the US. the orange cucumber might be just a novelty niche for those willing to try something new, in developing countries the unusually colored fruit could become another source of desperately needed vitamin A, especially for children. The body converts beta carotene into vitamin A, an essential nutrient. Vitamin A deficiency causes blindness and even death.

Though they contain higher levels of beta carotene, carrots are a cool season crop and do not grow well in the warmer climates of some developing nations. Cucumbers, however, do. The new breeds of cucumber, with their raised levels of beta carotene, would provide a ready option for more vitamin A and "orange pickles would provide this vitamin in a preserved form," Simon said.

Not to worry, even though the cantaloupe-colored inside of the cucumber provides more beta carotene, it does not change the fruit's flavor.

So, if you ever run across an orange cucumber in the produce aisle, don't be afraid to give it a try.

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Title Annotation:cucumbers that contain beta carotene
Author:Rush, Meleah
Publication:Mother Earth News
Date:Oct 1, 1995
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