Eggplant dates back about 2,000 years in India. Although often considered a vegetable, they are technically a fruit, as they grow from a flowering plant and contain seeds. There are many varieties that range in size and color. And while eggplants with a deep purple skin are most common, they can be red, green or even black. One eggplant type is small, white and looks a lot like an egg; another is long and skinny like a bean, while the “Kermit” variety has green and white swirls. What they all have in common, however, is the way they grow, suspended from tall plants.
Eggplants first appeared in Europe in the 14th century, and eventually made their way to the United States, with Thomas Jefferson introducing them in the 18th century. Today, Florida is the leading producer of eggplants in the U.S., followed behind by New Jersey and California.
While eggplants don’t have an overwhelming supply of any one nutrient, they contain an array of many vitamins and minerals, such as fiber, folate, potassium and phosphorus, as well as decent levels of vitamins A, K and B6, magnesium, zinc and calcium.
One cup of raw eggplant contains:
- Calories: 20
- Carbs: 5 grams
- Fiber: 3 grams
- Protein: 1 gram
- Manganese: 10% of the RDI
- Folate: 5% of the RDI
- Potassium: 5% of the RDI
- Vitamin K: 4% of the RDI
- Vitamin C: 3% of the RDI
Eggplants also contain small amounts of niacin, magnesium and copper.
In addition to containing a variety of vitamins and minerals, eggplants have a high number of antioxidants. These phenols, a kind of antioxidant in eggplants, are known to be one of the most powerful free radical scavengers, which may help inhibit tumor growth and fight cancer metastasis. Eggplants are also high in anthocyanins, a pigment with antioxidant properties that can protect against cellular damage.
Some animal studies have found that eggplants may improve heart function and reduce LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels. This is because fiber reduces the amount of cholesterol that your body absorbs by binding it with your digestive system’s bile so that your body naturally gets rid of it.
Eggplant contains several substances that show potential in fighting cancer cells. For example, solasodine rhamnosyl glycosides (SRGs) are a type of compound found in some nightshade plants, including eggplant. Some animal studies have shown that SRGs could cause the death of cancer cells and may also help reduce the recurrence of certain types of cancer. Though research on the topic is limited, SRGs have been shown to be especially effective against skin cancer when applied directly to the skin.
Eggplant comes from the nightshade family of plants, which includes tomatoes, potatoes and bell peppers, as well as chili peppers, habaneros, jalapeños and paprika. Eating too much of it may cause some problems, especially in people who are susceptible to forming kidney stones, as it has high oxalate content. Interestingly, ancient Mediterranean people reportedly nicknamed it the “mad apple,” believing that eating eggplant would cause insanity.
In 2011, India charged Monsanto with biopiracy for alleged attempts to genetically modify indigenous eggplants.
- India’s National Biodiversity Authority (NBA), a government agency, suedMonsanto, the world leader in genetically modified (GM) crops and seeds, and their collaborators, the Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company, for stealing local varieties of eggplant to develop a genetically modified version
- India requires that any entity attempting to use a native plant for commercial or research purposes must first get approval; Monsanto, however, neglected to do this, opting instead to essentially steal the native plants in order to modify them for their own commercial gain
How to Buy
Choose eggplants that are firm and heavy for their size. Their skin should be smooth and shiny, and their color, whether it be purple, white or green, should be vivid. They should be free of discoloration, scars, and bruises, which usually indicate that the flesh beneath has become damaged and possibly decayed.
The stem and cap, on either end of the eggplant, should be bright green in color. As you would with other fruits and vegetables, avoid purchasing eggplant that has been waxed. To test for the ripeness of an eggplant, gently press the skin with the pad of your thumb. If it springs back, the eggplant is ripe, while if an indentation remains, it is not.
How to Store
Eggplants do not store well for long periods of time. Without refrigeration, eggplants can be stored in a cool, dry place for 1 or 2 days. If you don’t intend to eat the eggplant within 2 days, it should be refrigerated. Place uncut and unwashed eggplant in the refrigerator crisper where it will keep for a few days. It can be refrigerated up to 7 days. Eggplant may also be blanched or steamed then frozen for up to six months.
Eggplants are sensitive to the ethylene gas given off by some fruits and vegetables, such as apples and potatoes, so do not store them with each other. Be careful when handling because they bruise easily.
Eggplants are sensitive to both heat and cold and should ideally be stored at around 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Do not cut eggplant before you store it as it degrades quickly once its skin has been punctured or its inner flesh exposed.
If you purchase eggplant that is wrapped in plastic film, remove it as soon as possible since it will inhibit the eggplant from breathing and degrade its freshness.
How to Cook
The entire eggplant can be eaten. However, the skin sometimes has a bitter taste, so many people prefer to peel the skin off. Clean the eggplant by running under cold running water and wiping dry with a tea towel. Trim the stem off from the eggplant.
Eggplants absorb liquids very easily. To reduce the amount of moisture an eggplant will absorb during cooking, a common preparation method includes “salting” or “purging” the eggplant. To salt the eggplant, slice into pieces, wash under cold water, lay the pieces on a rack or paper towels, and then rub the vegetable with salt. Let the salt set for ½ hour to an hour. Then, wipe the salt from the slices with a paper towel. (Do not rinse off with water because that will cause the eggplant to absorb moisture back into it.) After wiping the salt off, firmly squeeze the slices between the palms of your hands to get the excess moisture out of them, then pat dry with a paper towel. Slices are ready to cook.
Eggplants are delicious hot or cold and can be enjoyed marinated, stuffed, roasted, grilled, fried, in a casserole, in stews, or on brochettes.
When cutting an eggplant, use a stainless steel knife as carbon steel will react with its phytonutrients and cause it to turn black. Wash the eggplant first and then cut off the ends.
Most eggplants can be eaten either with or without their skin. However, the larger ones and those that are white in color generally have tough skins that may not be palatable. To remove skin, you can peel it before cutting or if you are baking it, you can scoop out the flesh once it is cooked.
Eggplant can be baked, roasted in the oven, or steamed. If baking it whole, pierce the eggplant several times with a fork to make small holes for the steam to escape. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 to 25 minutes, depending upon size. You can test for its readiness by gently inserting a knife or fork to see if it passes through easily.
For homemade babaganoush, purée roasted eggplant, garlic, tahini, lemon juice and olive oil.
Use it as a dip for vegetables or as a sandwich filling.
Mix cubed baked eggplant with grilled peppers, lentils, onions and garlic and top with balsamic vinaigrette.
Add eggplant to your next Indian curry stir-fry.