CUCUMBER, Cucumis sativus L. (of the family Cucurbitaceae), in Persia generally called ḵīār (with occasional slight variants), a term that is also employed to designate the fruit of certain other plants (see below).
Words for cucumber in Middle and New Persian. In the Bundahišn the wādrang “cucumber” is listed as one of the ten species of fruit “edible both outside and inside” (16.26; TD2, fol. 61b; tr. Anklesaria, p. 151; translation as “citron,” another meaning of Pahlavi wādrang [see bālang], is clearly ruled out by the context here, as the citron is a bitter fruit of which only the candied peel is eaten; this confusion is also reflected in Ṭabarī, I, p. 127; tr. I, p. 298; Baḷʿamī, ed. Bahār, p. 92; Asmussen, p. 17). The xār-wādrang (perhaps a misspelling of *xīār-wādrang; cf. kīār-bādrang/bāḏrang in Bīrūnī, 1973, p. 301; idem, 1318 Š./1939, p. 374; Maydānī, p. 501; Zamaḵšarī, I, p. 82) mentioned in the Pahlavi text Xusraw ī Kawādān (par. 45) as one of the fruits best suited for making preserves (ambag) was probably the cucumber (ed. Monchizadeh, p. 73 n. 77); in this meaning ḵīār(-e) bādrang/bālang is still current in Pashto and in the dialects of Shiraz, Yazd, Kermān, and Afghanistan (Bellew, pp. 9, 219; Afḡānīnevīs, p. 34; Dehḵodā, s.v. ḵīār; Wāʿeẓ Taqawī, p. 29).
Ḵīār in the specific sense of “cucumber” is known in Middle Persian only as the Pāzand gloss of the ideogram BWṢYNʾ (Frahang i Pahlavīk, pp. 51, 102). Ṣādeq Kīā (p. 120), however, has argued that this ideogram, which he has deciphered as bo/ūjīnā, is an Iranian vocable related to Persian boza (“a kind of fragrant fruit”; Borhān-e qāṭeʿ, ed. Moʿīn, I, p. 275) and referred to types of melons and cucumbers (cf. the reading bōč/jīnā, Frahang i Pahlavīk, p. 102; Justi, p. 90; būjepā in Borhān-e qāṭeʿ, ed. Moʿīn, I, p. 313). Although some classical Arabic writers used ḵīār along with, or in place of, the Arabic words qeṯṯāʾ and qaṯad, it was generally recognized as a loanword from Persian (Adīb Naṭanzī, p. 144; Maydānī, p. 501; Ebn ʿAwwām, II, pp. 223-25; Ghaleb, I, no. 7930; Lane, s.v. ḵīār; but cf. Meyerhof, in Ebn Maymūn, p. 194 no. 388, where it is presented as a pure Arabic word). Iranian cognates for ḵīār include Khotanese byāra, Buddhist Sanskrit of Kuci (the Kucha oasis in the Tarim basin) guyara, and Choresmian vyārūč (Bailey, Dictionary, p. 308; for Indo-Aryan cognates, see Turner, s.v. kṣīraka).
In Persian poetry ḵīār is first attested in a distich by Labībī (fl. 10th-11th centuries; quoted in Loḡat-e fors, ed. Eqbāl, p. 414, s.v. ḡāvšū). Bosḥāq Aṭʿema (d. ca. 830/1426) mentioned in the same poem (p. 43) bālang and toranj (two varieties of citron) and ḵīār-e sabz “green cucumber” as three of the finest fruits.
A few other Persian (or dialectal) names for cucumber are recorded, including ḵīārza (= ḵīār-čanbar; see below), said to be synonymous with Arabic šaʿārīr or qeṯṯāʾ (Tonokābonī, pp. 371, 660; Borhān-e qāṭeʿ, ed. Moʿīn, II, p. 800; ʿAqīlī Ḵorāsānī, p. 673), and the obsolete gāvšu, ḡāvoš, ḡāš, and ḵāvoš, referring to a variety of cucumber grown for its seeds (Loḡat-e fors, ed. Eqbāl, pp. 414, 215; Borhān-e qāṭeʿ, ed. Moʿīn, s.vv.; Tattavī, I, p. 564, II, pp. 995, 996; Naḵjavānī, p. 154; cf. Laufer, Sino-Iranica, p. 301).
Medical uses. Cucumbers and the seeds of the fully ripened fruit were believed to have medicinal properties: “Qeṯṯāʾ and qaṯad are called ḵīār [in Persian] . . . . Botḥ . . . particularly their seeds, are cold and moist in the second degree; they assuage the [bodily] heat, quench thirst, are diuretic and lenitive, cleanse the kidneys and the bladder, and relieve a burning sensation during urination” (Mowaffaq Heravī, p. 250; cf. ʿAlī b. Sahl Rabban Ṭabarī, p. 380; Aqīlī Ḵorāsānī, pp. 673, 676-77).
Culinary uses. Cucumbers are usually eaten raw (with salt) or pickled. Mīrzā ʿAlī-Akbar, the chef of Nāṣer-al-Dīn Shah Qājār (1264-1313/1848-96; see cookbooks), gave recipes for cucumber pickles (pp. 62-63) and stuffed cucumbers (dolma-ye ḵīār, p. 42; for a modern recipe, see Dastūr-e ṭabbāḵī, p. 78). Today culinary uses of the ḵīār include the rather uncommon morabbā-ye ḵīār (cucumber preserves); māst-o-ḵīār, a very popular appetizer of chopped or grated cucumbers mixed with yogurt, seasoned with salt and pepper, and sometimes including raisins, chopped walnuts, onions, and mint; āb-dūḡ-ḵīār, iced thinned yogurt with chopped cucumbers, which is very popular in hot weather, especially among the poor, who may soak bread in it for the midday meal; sekanjabīn-ḵīār or ḵīār-sekanjabīn, a drink made from grated or chopped cucumbers and sekanjabīn, which is a concoction of sugar and vinegar usually flavored with mint extract; pālūda-ye ḵīār, peeled and grated cucumbers in an iced sherbet of rosewater or bīdmešk distillate (see bīd); toršī-e ḵīār or ḵīār-toršī, small cucumbers pickled in vinegar; ḵīār-šūr, cucumbers pickled in brine; toršī-e maḵlūṭ and maḵlūṭ-e šūr (pickled mixed vegetables, including cucumbers; for recipes, see Montaẓemī, pp. 470, 641; Ḥekmat, pp. 134-35; Dastūr-e ṭabbāḵī, pp. 150, 153, 159). The cucumber is also a main ingredient in a popular salad known as šīrāzī. Dishes known as būrānī-e ḵīār and qayma-ye ḵīār were known in the Safavid period (Bāvaṛčī, pp. 154-55; Nūr-Allāh, pp. 238-39).
Cultivation and varieties. In some areas of Persia two or three crops of cucumbers are harvested each year. This fact and the varied climate of the country account for the availability of fresh cucumbers almost everywhere in Persia at all seasons. There are many varieties, differing in size, form, quality of peel, and flavor, but most are picked and eaten green; fully ripened, yellow cucumbers are harvested only for their seeds. Although several marketable varieties of cucumber are native to Persia, they are generally not resistant to such diseases as mosaic. Efforts have reportedly been made to render them less vulnerable through selection, hybridization with disease-resistant foreign varieties, and better pest control (Ṭabāṭabāʾī, I, pp. 907, 909-12). Moḥammad Ṭabāṭabāʾī (I, pp. 912-21) has described varieties from fifteen principal cucumber-growing areas between Bāsmenj in Azerbaijan and the hot southern regions around Ahvāz and Jīroft. A kind of long (up to 1 m), thick, almost cylindrical cucumber grows in Gīlān (locally called baram[ī] ḵeyār or simply baram); the mature fruits provide cucumber seeds (Faḵrāʾī, p. 121; Pāyanda Langarūdī, p. 346).
Another kind of “cucumber,” actually a melon, known in Persia is the ḵīār-čanbar (lit., “loop/clavicle[-like] cucumber,” Eng. “snake cucumber/melon/gourd,” Cucumis melo L. var. flexuosus), named for its long, sinuous fruit (see Renaud and Colin, pp. 151-52; Meyerhof, in Ebn Maymūn, pp. 171-72 no. 343; Ṭabāṭabāʾī, I, p. 925). Some modern local names for the snake cucumber are čanbar-ḵīār in Khorasan, ḵīār-šeng(ū) in Kermān and Yazd, and ḵīārza in Shiraz (cf. ḵīārza, above). It is probably also the kalvanda mentioned by Bosḥāq Aṭʿema (pp. 11, 43, 198; cf. Tattavī, II, pp. 956, 1183; Borhān-e qāṭeʿ, ed. Moʿīn, III, p. 1684; cf. Clément-Mullet, pp. 90-122; Renaud and Colin, pp. 151-52). It is cultivated mostly for its medicinal seeds.
The ḵīār-e waḥšī (obsolete ḵīār-e daštī, lit., “wild cucumber,” Eng. squirting cucumber) or ḵīār-e ḵar/ḵar-ḵīār “donkey cucumber,” Ecbal(l)ium elaterium/officinarum A. Rich., grows wild in many places in Persia, including Arasbārān, Ḥasanbeyglū, and Dašt-e Moḡān in Azerbaijan, where it is called ešek ḵīārī (donkey cucumber); Ṭāleš, Rūdbār, and Harzevīl in Gīlān; and around Isfahan, where it is called komūz-e sagī/kaval (Schlimmer, p. 171; Andersen, p. 2). It was formerly very important in medicine (ʿAqīlī Ḵorāsānī, pp. 673-76; Schlimmer, p. 171), especially as a drastic purgative and a poultice against “cold tumors,” but it has fallen into disuse, probably because the fruit is pungent and irritating to mucous membranes.
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Originally Published: December 15, 1993
Last Updated: November 2, 2011
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