Eggplant Fruit

A Staple of the Mediterranean Kitchen

The eggplant is a staple of the Mediterranean kitchen, but it is also becoming increasingly familiar to American diners. And that gives cooks an extremely versatile food with which to work.

Although usually considered a vegetable, the eggplant is actually a fruit. It is a member of the nightshade family, making it a relative of the potato and tomato.

Eggplant Fruit

Nutritious Source of Vitamins

All these vegetables are considered nutritious sources of vitamins and cancer-fighting phytochemicals. One-fifth of an eggplant contains only 25 calories, 2 grams of fiber and 1 gram of protein.

While eggplant, which originated in India, is available year round, its peak season is in August and September. And when it's really fresh, eggplant has a sweet, mild flavor. You can eat the skin of young, fresh eggplant, but older ones should be peeled. Since the flesh discolors rapidly, an eggplant should be cut just before using.

Varieties of Eggplant

The many varieties of eggplant range from deep purple to white, from oblong to round and in lengths from 2 to 12 inches in length. The lighter the color, the milder the eggplant, with white being the mildest.

The narrow Japanese or Asian eggplant is tender and sweet.

Chinese Eggplant

The egg-shaped white eggplant has a tough skin and smooth flesh. Americans are most familiar with the large, purple eggplant.

White Eggplant

Eggplant can be baked, broiled, or fried. In many recipes, eggplant fulfills the role of being a complementary ingredient that balances the surrounding flavors of the other more pronounced ingredients.

Purchasing Eggplant

Eggplants Smaller, immature eggplants are best. Full-size puffy ones may have hard seeds and can be bitter. Choose a firm, smooth-skinned eggplant that is heavy for its size; avoid those with soft or brown spots. Gently push with your thumb or forefinger. If the flesh gives slightly but then bounces back, it is ripe. If the indentation remains, it is overripe and the insides will be mushy. If there is no give, the eggplant was picked too early. Also make sure an eggplant isn't dry inside, knock on it with your knuckles. If you hear a hollow sound, don't buy it.

Eggplant should have smooth, glossy, purple black skin, free of scars and they must be firm. Soft eggplants are usually bitter. Keep cool and use eggplant in two to four days after purchase.

Never eat raw eggplant since it contains the toxin solamine. Solamine is destroyed by cooking.

Storing Eggplant

Eggplants are very perishable and become bitter with age. They should be stored in a cool, dry place and used within a day or two of purchase. To store in the refrigerator, place in a plastic bag. If you plan to cook it the same day you buy it, leave it out at room temperature.

Preparing Eggplant

When young, the skin of most eggplants are edible; older eggplants should be peeled. since the flesh discolors rapidly, an eggplant should be cut just before using.

When eggplants are fried they tend to absorb four times more fat than an equal amount of potatoes. Studies have shown that eggplants will absorb 80 grams of fat in approximately 70 seconds which adds 700 calories to the eggplant.

References: Foods and Nutriton Encyclopedia, The Whole Foods Encyclopedia.

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