Eggplant

eggplant
photo credit: gourmetsleuth

About

The eggplant is a member of the nightshade (Solanaceae) family to it is akin to the potato, tomato as well as the tomatillo and chayote. Although we use the eggplant as a vegetable it is really a fruit. While there are many variations of eggplant the most common in the US are “Black Beauty” (the large, dark glossy typical grocery store variety) and Japanese, the long slender version sometimes light purple. If you follow some of the links in this article you will learn about an amazing array of eggplant fruits in various colors, shapes and sizes. The English actually gave the fruit the name of "eggplant" referring one one varieties shape which was similar to an egg. To much of Europe the eggplant is referred to as an "aubergine" and Italy it is called melanzana.

History Of The Eggplant

The eggplant is native to India and Pakistan and was first domesticated over 4000 years ago. The fruit was introduced to China around 500 B.C. The Chinese hybridized their own varieties of different shaped and colored eggplants.

The migration of the eggplant continued in the 9 – 12th centuries to the Middle East and westward to Egypt. The moors introduced the eggplant to the Spaniards and the fruit became popular all over Europe. The Spaniards thought the eggplant was an aphrodisiac and referred to as “Berengenas” or “The Apple of Love”. This of course added greatly to the popularity of the unusual fruit.japanese style eggplant

The love affair with the eggplant took a downward turn in Northern Europe where Albert of Cologne referred to the fruit as "Mala Insana" or "Mad Apples" (a take off of the Italian name "melanzana"). The fruit was thought to cause insanity if it was eaten. It seems the commoners got over that and by the 1600's several varieties migrated from Naples to Germany.

While the Spaniards were traveling the globe they took the eggplant to South America around 1650. It was Thomas Jefferson (well known for his promotion of horticulture) who introduced them to the United States in 1806 after receiving an eggplant from a friend in France.

Eggplant Varieties

This is just a sampling of a few of the many eggplant varieties available. See the sources section for links to sites with seeds and more information on varieties.

Western (Globe) Eggplant - This is your common grocery store variety.  They are typically large with glossy dark skin. Use for eggplant parmesan or nice large slices for frying or grilling.  Or cut in cubes and use in our Turkey Eggplant Chili recipe.

Japanese or Asiancaliope egg shape eggplant This is one of my favorites. The Japanese long, slender eggplant is great for small servings. Slice lengthwise and grill or bake.  We used Japanese eggplant for our Eggplant Parmesan. Also you can slice thin and use to wrap other ingredients.

Egg Shaped - there are many egg-shaped varieties in purple, white and variegated like the picture shown. This variety is named Caliope.  These are fun to grow and are practical for some recipes.

Miniature or "baby"Amishlandseeds.com carries several varieties some the size or walnuts and other bright orange.  The small varieties can be cooked more quickly and tend to be less bitter even with a little aging.

Uses For Eggplant

With such a long culinary evolution eggplant uses are many and include, grilling, frying, baking or stewing and dips. The practice of "breading" keeps the spongy fruit from absorbing too much oil when fried.

Eggplants make a very good meat substitute for vegetarian cooking.

If you are ever in San Francisco in North Beach you have to try the eggplant sandwich at Mario's Cigar Store. (Mario's is tiny restaurant and is a North Beach landmark).

How To Buy

  • Peak season is from August to September but eggplant are plentiful year round. 
  • Choose firm, glossy skinned fruits and store refrigerated until used.  As your eggplant ages it will become more bitter. 
  • To prepare overripe fruit first cut the eggplant in slices and lay in a colander.  Sprinkle generously with salt and allow to 'sweat' for an hour.  Rinse before use.

Nutrition Information For Eggplant

Serving Size
1 cup, cubes
 
Calories
20
Calories from Fat
0
 
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 0g
0%
Saturated Fat 0g
0%
Cholesterol 0mg
0%
Sodium 2mg
0%
Potassium
189g
10%
Total Carbohydrate 5g
0%
Dietary Fiber 3g
10%
Sugars 2g
Protein 1g
0%
 
Vitamin A  0% Vitamin C  0%
Calcium  0% Iron  0%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

Growing Your Own

It is easy to grow eggplants at home.  There are only 2 in our family so I like to grow the Japanese or long, slender variety.  I can just pick a couple of fruits, perfect for grilling for two.  No matter which variety you select they are easy to grow.  Here are some tips.

  1. Seeds or Plants - Start seeds indoors or purchase small plants to get a jump start on the season.
  2. Soil - Eggplants like a full-sun location and well-drained rich soil.
  3. Harvest - Eggplants should be harvested before the skins turn dull. The dull appearance indicates they are over ripe and will be more prone to bitterness.
  4. Store - As with most vegetables it is best to harvest as you need them but the eggplants will store nicely refrigerated up to two weeks.

Buy Seed -  Eggplant seed is readily available at most garden nurseries.  For an excellent online source try Renee's Garden Seeds.

Other References

The Eggplant Recipe Database

The Eggplant Recipe Database - an amazing collection of over 3000 eggplant (aubergine) recipes. The site allows you to search by title or ingredient.

Eggplant Fun - We found this and just had to include it.  Who'd have thought of eggplant o'lanterns for Halloween? Pure genius -- take a look at Andrew Huff's postings.

eggplant o'lanterns
eggplant o'lanterns photo by: andrew huff
 

author

Barbara Bowman graduated with degree in Foods and Nutrition from San Jose State University. As CEO of GourmetSleuth.com she spends most waking hours writing, cooking, eating, gardening and traveling.