Solanum Melongena L.
Also known as: Mélongène (Fr). Bringelle, Eggplant, Garden egg, Guinea squash, Brinjal (En), aubergene (En, Fr)
Eggplant is a native of India. It belongs to the genus Solanum which has over 1000 species, but the most important economically, are potato (Solanum tuberosum) and Eggplant (Solanum melongena). They both belong to the family Solanaceae. A notable species in this family is Tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum).
Brief History of Eggplant
Eggplant was known in Iraq as early as 6-7 century. It was introduced to Europe, in the 12 Century, by Arab traders into Spain. It was described in Ethiopia in 14 century AD. The earlier plants bore egg-shaped fruits.
Nowadays eggplant cultivated worldwide but the main production regions are Asia and the Mediterranean.
China is responsible for 53% of the world production. Other notable producers include: India (28%), Turkey (4%) and N. Africa (4%).
Eggplants are grown for their immature fruits that are used as a vegetable, worldwide. All parts of the immature fruit are edible. Mature fruits have a fibrous and bitter flesh and the seeds are hard are unpalatable.
Cultivated Varieties of Eggplant
Eggplant cultivars are so diverse that a clear separation into cultivar groups is impossible. The fruit shape is variable from globose to snake shaped, and may be furrowed or smooth. The colour of the skin is variable from white, green, pink, violet, purple to black, and may be uniformly stripped, mottled or netted.The fruit size is also variable and some of the Asian varieties may grow up to 35cm long and weigh up to 1kg (2.2Ib).
Cultivars in Europe and North America are elongated ovoid, 12-25cm long x 6-9cm broad, with a dark purple skin.The cultivar “Black Beauty” is the most popular in Africa.
The Flavour of Eggplant
Eggplants have a white flesh with a fine meaty texture and taste close to mushrooms but may be stronger or quite bitter, in the raw fruit. The somewhat bitter taste is attributed to presence of saponins called melongosides. The Saponins play an important role in the development of the richness of the flavour in Eggplants, during cooking.The surface of the flesh rapidly turns brown when cut open.
Culinary Use of Eggplant
- Eggplant is a popular vegetable in most countries. It’s is mostly eaten fresh but the fruits can also be sliced and dried, and stored for later use.
- The raw fruit has a somewhat bitter taste, but becomes tender when cooked and develops a rich, complex flavour, attributed to the saponins. It has the ability of absorbing cooking oils and sauces, resulting in very rich and savoury dishes Many recipes recommend salting, rinsing and draining of the sliced fruit to soften it, reduce the bitterness and the amount of fat absorbed during cooking. This treatment is not needed when using modern cultivars of eggplant.
- The fruits can be grilled, fried, baked, steamed or stewed, with other vegetables, meat or fish, and seasoned with garlic, onions, herbs and spices, sugar, oil and soy sauce, just to mention a few. They can also be roasted or braised in ashes.
- Eggplant is also used in making special dishes from different regions like the: Turkish and Greek Moussaka, the Turkish karnıyarık (stuffed eggplant), Italian parmigiana di melanzane, the Levantine Baba ghanoush, Sicilian Caponata and French ratatouille.
- It can be roasted, skinned, and blended with other ingredients such as lemon, tahini garlic, onions, tomatoes and spices.
- It can also be battered and deep fried.
- It can be hollowed out and stuffed with rice, mince/ground beef or other fillings and baked.
- Egg plant can be used as a meat substitute in vegan and vegetarian cuisine.
- Eggplants can also be made into pickles in vinegar (Iran, Egypt), Sweet jam (Turkey, Greece), air dried (Turkish ‘Dolma), or freeze dried, canned or deep frozen.
- In SE Asia fruits of certain cultivars are eaten raw.
How to Buy Eggplants
Choose glossy and attractively coloured immature fruits.
How to Store Eggplants
Eggplants are delicate, so the skin can be easily punctured and this eventually leads to decay. Handle them with care.
They are best stored in a cool, dry place at around 50ºF (10ºC). Cooler or warmer temperatures will eventually damage it. (Wellness Encyclopedia)
Avoid refrigeration unless absolutely necessary, as this can damage the texture and flavour of the eggplants.
If you must refrigerate it, then place uncut, unwashed, eggplant in a plastic bag in the fridge crisper for 3-4 days only.
Notes on Botany
Wild Solanum occurs in Myanmar-Yunnan area.
Many medicinal uses have been reported, just to mention a few, used to treat diabetes, toothache, skin infections.
Brief Botanical Description
Annual herb in temperate climate or perennial shrub, in the tropics, 1.5-2m (5-6.5 ft) high.
Stems and leaves densely covered with star shaped hairs, with 8-10 arms.
Leaves alternate, up to 25cm x 15 cm (10 x 6 inch).
Flowers violet, rarely white.
Fruit variously shaped from globose to snake shaped, 2-35cm (1-14inch) long x 2-10cm (1-4 inch) broad, up to 1kg (2.2Ib) in weight.
Last Updated: July 26, 2018