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What is an Eggplant?

By S. N. Smith
Updated May 16, 2024
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Eggplant (Solanum melongena) is a member of the nightshade family, bearing edible fruit that range in color and size according to cultivar. The fruit of the most popular European and American varieties are fairly large, reaching a size of 5 to 10 inches (12 to 25 cm) long and 2 to 4 inches (6 to 9 cm) wide. They are deep purple in color and filled will tiny seeds. Other cultivars may be long and skinny or small and round. In addition to deep purplish black, the fruit may be green, white, lavender, reddish purple, yellow, or striated.

The plant is native to Sri Lanka and southern India, and it is believed to have appeared in the West sometime during the 16th century, likely as a result of Arabic influence. It is now a favorite of home gardeners in many regions globally. On a commercial scale, China currently leads the world in production of the fruit, with India coming in second. Japan, Turkey, and Egypt also produce a significant percentage of the world’s crop.

The Sanskrit name for eggplant is vatinganah, the French and British know it as the aubergine, and the Hindi name, brinjal, is recognized in South Africa as well. The versatile fruit is featured in cuisines around the world, and international dishes like the French ratatouille, the Italian melanzane alla parmigiana, and the Middle Eastern baba ghanuj have exceeded borders to become global favorites. It figures prominently in Indian cuisine, where it is prepared in a variety of ways from curries to chutneys.

Eggplant is not eaten raw, as its flesh is quite bitter and the texture is unpleasant. It may be stewed with tomatoes, grilled, roasted, battered and deep-fried, or stuffed and baked. The fruit will absorb a great deal of liquid and fat as it is cooking. To prevent this, and to eliminate bitterness, it can be degorged, which involves slicing the raw fruit, salting the slices, then allowing them to drain in a colander or on paper towels for a half hour before rinsing and patting dry. The seeds and skin of the eggplant are edible and usually do not need to be removed prior to cooking and eating. An exception to this is in the case of a fruit that is overmature or that has been sitting around for a few days in the refrigerator.

Although it is not as packed with nutrients as some other fruits and vegetables are, eggplant is a good source of fiber. One cup (99 g) of the cooked fruit provides only 35 calories and contains antioxidants such as chlorogenic acid, which may help to reduce the risk of colon and liver cancer.

Eggplants are extremely sensitive to cold. In temperate climates, the seedlings must be planted after the danger of frost has passed. The fruit does not store well and therefore should be used soon after harvesting, although a surplus of homegrown fruit may be water-blanched and frozen. They are available fresh in stores year-round.

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Discussion Comments

By Perdido — On Aug 24, 2012

Eggplant's calories are so low that I love using it as a side dish. It fills you up a little without adding to the calories you have to burn off later.

Grilled eggplant is my favorite. I use a little bit of olive oil, along with some Cajun seasoning. My neighbor likes to use red pepper flakes, but these are a bit too spicy for my tastes.

Cajun seasoning offers just the right amount of kick. The eggplant never tastes bland when I use this on it. It gets those nice grill marks, and it blisters up in spots when it is done.

By seag47 — On Aug 24, 2012

@sevenseas – That sounds a lot like the eggplant tempura I had at a Japanese restaurant. It was fried in a batter, but it had a certain distinct flavor to it.

I ordered the vegetable tempura platter, which contained fried mushrooms, squash, carrots, and eggplant. On the outside, every piece looked the same, because all you could see was the golden brown batter.

The color of the inside revealed the vegetable's identity. The batter definitely had some soy sauce in it, because it tasted distinctly Asian.

By healthy4life — On Aug 23, 2012

My neighbor is growing eggplants in her vegetable garden. I have a dog who loves to eat vegetables, and she will go next door and pick an eggplant now and then!

My neighbor says she doesn't mind, because she finds it amusing. I do feel a bit of shame every time that I step outside and see a big, dark purple eggplant lying in my yard, though.

Eggplants are funny looking. To me, they resemble squash in shape. They are such a dark purple that they almost appear black in a certain light.

By lighth0se33 — On Aug 22, 2012

Preparing eggplants sure sounds like a lot of work. Since eggplant's nutritional value isn't that high, it really seems like a lot of effort for nothing.

I might eat it if it were on the menu at a restaurant. I know that I would never go to the trouble in my own kitchen, though.

By fify — On Aug 22, 2012
Ratatouille is so good! I had it recently at a friend's house and loved it. It looked very much like the dish from the movie! The zucchini was good too but I think the eggplant was the highlight of the dish. It was soft but the outer corners of the eggplant slices had become slightly crisp in the oven. It was heaven! We had it with some couscous.

I think eggplant is a vegetable that you kind of have to work on. It's bland by itself but when you add complimentary ingredients and seasonings, it can turn into something really great.

By serenesurface — On Aug 21, 2012

@turkay1-- I'm not one hundred percent positive but I think the really small, round eggplants and the long, thin ones are not bitter. I usually find that the really large ones are bitter. But I'm sure it depends on many different factors and not just the type of eggplant.

Salt works really well though. What I do is I cut up the eggplant and then I put it in a bowl of cold water with salt in it. I let it sit like that for fifteen to twenty minutes before I cook. This takes away all the bitterness. So you can continue to buy any kind of eggplant as long as you do this beforehand.

Organic eggplants are less likely to be bitter too since they've just been picked and are very fresh. You should try the ones at the farmer's markets.

By candyquilt — On Aug 21, 2012

I had no idea that salting eggplant before cooking it removes the bitterness.

I do like this vegetable. It's not something I can eat every day but I do enjoy it once in a while, especially if it's made with spices and tomatoes. I also love that eggplant is low in calories. The one problem I've always had with eggplant is that some of them turn out to be bitter. I have no idea if certain types of eggplant are more inclined to be bitter or not. I usually just grab whatever I find at the grocery store.

It's just not a pleasant surprise when you take time to prepare something and then it turns out to be bitter. So I've been avoiding cooking eggplant lately. I do love having it when I eat out at restaurants though. There is one Lebanese restaurant where I live that makes really good baba ghanuj.

By anon35613 — On Jul 06, 2009

how long does a eggplant tree live

By sevenseas — On Aug 28, 2008

I prepare eggplant sometime by slicing it then dipping it in flour, egg mixture, then breadcrumbs. Finally the slices are fried. Good vegetarian dish, it actually substitutes for meat.

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