What is an eggplant?
Although enjoyed like a vegetable, eggplants are oval fruits with a satin skin. Inside is a spongy, creamy-white flesh that is perfect for soaking up all the exotic flavours of a dish. Aubergine is the French name for the fruit, increasingly used in Australia. The word aubergine is now also used to describe an interior design colour that is based on the beautiful deep purple colour of the eggplant’s skin..
Eggplants were cultivated in China as early as 600 BC, but they are thought to have originated in Indiaand spread to the Middle East. Followingthe expansion of the Ottoman Empire, eggplants were grown throughout Europe. Early varieties of eggplant were smaller and white, and looked like eggs, which gave rise to the name eggplant.
The eggplant is relatively new to Australia but can be found in many dishes that were first created in other parts of the world. In the popular Greek dish, moussaka, eggplant and lamb are gently simmered with aromatic spices, blanketed with a feta-infused white sauce and baked in the oven.
Although most eggplants are purple and oval to pear-shaped, you can occasionally find white, lavender or striped sausage-like types. Small round eggplants in a range of colours are also sometimes available.
Common varieties include Black Bell, Long Tom, Pea, Thai Round, Continental and Purple. Pea or Thai eggplants are small, green fruits that look like peas and cluster at the end of small branches. Pea eggplants are used in Asian cooking.
Why eggplant is good to eat
- Eggplant is a good source of vitamin B6, with just 75 g providing your recommended daily requirement. Vitamin B6 is important for your blood, brain and many tissues throughout your body
- It is a good source of dietary fibre
- The purple skin contains some antioxidants that can boost your immune system.
- Energy – 100 g provides 90 kJ.
How are they grown and harvested?
The parent plant is a medium sized bush 50 to100cm high that needs long warm summers to provide good quality fruit. Seedlings are usually grown in nurseries and then transplanted when they are about eight weeks old.
Harvesting takes place 60 to 70 days after transplanting, when the eggplants have an all-over colour and are the right size. Once they are cut from the bush, they should be handled carefully, as the skins are thin and easily damaged.
Select those with smooth, firm, glossy, skin with a fresh green stalk. The fruit should feel heavy for its size. Avoid any with brown or soft spots and a dull skin. A wilted, shrivelled, soft and flabby eggplant will usually be bitter, withpoor flavour
How to store and keep eggplant
Store eggplants in an unsealed plastic bag in the refrigerator. Use eggplants as soon as you can because the flesh turns bitter quickly, even when they are not overripe. Use within five days.
How to use
- Eggplant may be sliced and fried, baked, boiled, steamed or grilled. Use in casseroles, layered vegetable dishes, curries or stuffed with meat and rice.
- Grill or barbecue slices of eggplant after lightly brushing or spraying them with oil. Serve with grilled capsicum and zucchini slices to accompany chicken.
- The seeds can be bitter, especially if crushed, so you should mash the cooked flesh with a fork rather than using a food processor or blender.
- Some recipes advise salting sliced fruit (known as ‘degorging’) to soften it and to reduce the amount of fat absorbed during cooking. This treatment is not necessary with modern varieties of eggplant.
This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by:
Better Health Channel
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