ASDA, on Friday (6 October), wrote to EU Commissioner Franz Fischler asking it to relax curvature rules on cucumbers, after discovering that it couldn't classify all its organic range of cucumbers as Class I because of Euro red tape.

Brussels' cucumber commissioners decided in June 1988 under rule 1677/88 that a Class I cucumber should have a maximum arc of 10mm per 10cm and re-confirmed this view in amendments made in 1997.

However, ASDA is asking for an EU re-think following the explosion of demand for organic fruit and vegetables. Organic cucumbers are less uniform in shape, but the difference in curliness - up to 20mm per 10cm - means, despite being of the highest quality, a large proportion have to be categorised and sold as Class II.

An overhaul of cucumber conventions seems overdue after ASDA also discovered that it could quite legally circumvent classification rules by chopping a Class II cucumber in half and selling each portion as a Class I vegetable.

"As far as our customers are concerned, straight cucumbers taste just as good as curly ones," said ASDA's produce director Peter Pritchard. "But it's clear that EU red tape needs to catch up with the massive demand for organic fruit and veg."

Despite EU curliness rules, Class I cucumbers can have slight defects in colouring and skin blemishes caused by rubbing and handling. But crooked cucumbers that have an arc greater than 20mm per 10cm are only allowed if packed and sold separately.

Last month, ASDA dramatically doubled the number of organic products in store, with a wide selection available in each of ASDA's 240 stores across the UK. Only one of the reasons behind ASDA's confirmation as Britain's best fresh produce retailer at last week's Reed Retail Awards, winning the title for a second consecutive year.

Editors' Notes:
Commission Regulations relating to cucumbers (1677/88) were adopted on 15th June 1988. They were amended by commission regulations 888/97 in May 1997 and stretch to over 1,000 words.

The EU specifies that Class I cucumbers must be:
  • well shaped and practically straight (maximum arc is 10mm per 10cm length of the cucumber)

  • allowed a slight deformation, excluding that caused by seed formation

  • allowed slight defect in colouring, especially in the light coloured part of the cucumber where it touched the ground during growth

  • allowed slight skin blemishes due to rubbing and handling or low temperatures, provided that such blemishes have healed and do not affect keeping quality
Class II cucumbers can have:
  • defects in colouring up to one-third of the surface and healed cracks

  • a slight crookedness that extends to a maximum arc of 20mm per 10m f the length of the cucumber
Separate sizing rules also exist which specify that cucumbers grown in the open must weigh 180g or more. Cucumbers grown under protection must weigh 250g or more. Class I cucumbers grown under protection weighing 500g or more must not be less than 30cm long. Class I cucumbers between 250g and 500g must not be less than 25cm long. Sizing provisions are not enforced for 'short cucumbers'.

ASDA's organic cucumbers cost 67p each. Around half are categorised as Class I and half as Class II, depending on the arc of curvature.

High resolution jpegs of ASDA's curvy organic cucumbers are available from the ASDA press office.

Cucumber Facts
  • The cucumber belongs to the curcurbitaceae family, which includes squash, zucchini, pumpkin and melons. It is thought to have originated in India, but have been eaten and enjoyed for centuries for their cool, crisp qualities. Technically, the cucumber is a large berry.

  • After being cultivated in India for hundreds of years, the cucumber was taken to China in 140 BC. It is uncertain when it reached Europe, however the early Greeks were familiar with it, thinking it possessed all sorts of marvellous properties.

  • The Romans valued it also, growing cucumbers in beds mounted on wheels, so that they could be taken in and out of the sun. Emperor Tiberius had a passion for cucumbers and insisted on eating them at every meal. In the 14th Century it was known as a 'cocumer', which by the 17th Century had become 'cowcumber'. By the 1800s, it had taken its modern day name.

  • In the 17th Century, Robert Burton, who wrote the Anatomy of Melancholy, attributed his illness to an over-indulgence of cucumber.

  • Cucumber sandwiches, the very expression of Englishness, emerged in the late Victorian period. Every summer, 190,000 sandwiches are served at Wimbledon, most of them cucumber.

  • In south London, pickled cucumbers used to be called 'wallys' - if you pass electricity through them they will also glow bright green!

  • Cucumbers are standard accompaniment to vodka for Russians.

  • Cucumbers should be stored between 10-15 degrees or they will go soft.