Eggplant is thought to have originated in China or India, and is a member of the nightshade plant family, related to potatoes, tomatoes, and peppers.
It likely was introduced to Europe in the 1100s, when Moorish traders brought it into Spain, which at the time was a Moorish state. The early plants that English-speaking people came into contact with bore egg-shaped fruits, most likely white ones, hence the vegetable’s name.
By the 18th century, the eggplant was established as a food in Italy and France, where it is known as aubergine. Sometime in the 1600s, eggplant was brought to America.
Types of Eggplant
Eggplant comes in a multitude of shapes, sizes, and colors, including some highly unusual “heirloom” varieties.
Today, eggplant is cultivated in most warm regions of the world, and is widely used in Asian and Middle Eastern cookery, as well as in many Mediterranean dishes. Americans have learned to cook eggplant in many ways, and there are eggplant recipes for main dishes, appetizers, and side dishes. Its robust flavor and “meaty” texture also make it a perfect vegetarian main-dish choice.
Eggplant is a high-fiber food with only a small amount of vitamins and minerals. Like most vegetables, eggplant contains virtually no fat. But beware: Eggplant absorbs more fat than any other vegetable. Frying an eggplant can boost its calories from 25 to a whopping 446.
For a full listing of nutrients, see Eggplant in the National Nutrient Database.
How to choose the best eggplant
Look for a symmetrical eggplant with satin-smooth skin and no blemishes. A good eggplant will feel fairly heavy; a light one may be seedy. The stem and calyx (cap) should be bright green.
If you press the vegetable gently with your thumb, the indentation should refill rapidly if the eggplant is fresh.
Tan patches, scars, or bruises on the skin indicate decay, which will appear as discoloration in the flesh beneath. An eggplant with wrinkled or flabby-looking skin will probably be bitter.
A seedy eggplant will also be bitter, as it is the seeds that carry the bitterness. A good way to judge an eggplant’s seediness is by size. Small- and medium-sized eggplants (for their variety) have fewer seeds than large, overmature eggplants. A medium-sized American purple eggplant, 3 to 6 inches in diameter, will likely be young, sweet, and tender.
How to store eggplant
Ideally, an eggplant should be stored at about 50°F. Cold temperatures will eventually damage it, as will warm conditions. You can store an uncut, unwashed eggplant in a plastic bag in the refrigerator crisper for three to four days. If the eggplant won’t fit easily in the crisper, don’t try to squeeze it in. The vegetable is so delicate that any undue pressure will bruise it. The skin is also easily punctured, leading to decay.
7 Recipe Ideas for Eggplant
Eggplant absorbs flavors easily, so it’s a versatile vegetable that can be served as an appetizer, side dish, or main dish. Try these delicious preparation suggestions.
Published September 17, 2015