University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science
THE MANY USES
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension
University of Vermont
This vegetable is quite diverse and
more versatile, both in the garden and in the kitchen, than you might
think. It has been around for many
centuries, used in cuisine of many countries.
Harvesting at the correct time, and preparing properly, ensures the
Eggplant is thought to have originally come from India, with records of
it cultivated in China in 500 B.C. It
was eaten in Asia and the Middle East for centuries, with the Arabs and
Persians taking it to Africa in the Middle Ages. Eggplant reached
Italy in the 14th
century, but it was not eaten much in Europe until at least the
1700’s. Grown in Europe for its purple, star-shaped
flowers and colorful fruits, Europeans didn’t eat it for several
reasons. In addition to the bitter fruit being
unappealing, they considered them dangerous.
Being a relative of the nightshade family, they believed eggplant to
cause fever, epilepsy, and even insanity!
Thomas Jefferson brought the
eggplant to America in the early 1800’s, but they were only used
here too until the early 1900’s. Chinese
and Italian immigrants during that period, with their long traditions
eggplant in their cooking, popularized this use.
Today you’ll find eggplant used
in cuisines of the world including Greek moussaka, Middle Eastern baba
Italian eggplant parmigiana, French ratatouille, and Asian stir-fries
curries. In addition to vegetable gardens, they make colorful additions
ornamental borders with their diversity of fruits. They come in a
range of sizes from small to
large; a range of shapes from
pea-like to egg-shaped to long and slender; and a range of colors from
traditional royal purple to shades of rose, green, yellow, and white.
As eggplants vary, so do their
harvest times. In general, harvest
large-fruited eggplants about three months from transplanting and
ones about two months from setting out.
Ideal harvest time is when fruits feel firm, have a glossy appearance,
and the skin springs back when lightly pressed.
If the skin doesn’t spring back when pressed, fruits are overripe
may be bitter. Unfortunately, many
eggplants you find in stores are overripe, supporting their bitter
reputation. Fresh eggplants, and many
newer varieties, have little bitterness.
Harvest fruits by cutting, not
twisting which can damage the plants.
Once harvested, eggplants will keep about a week wrapped in perforated
plastic in the refrigerator. Fruits can
be sliced or cubed, then blanched or steamed, and frozen up to eight
Eggplant has chemicals that can
cause digestive upset if eaten raw, so is usually cooked. It can
be grilled, stuffed, roasted, served
in soups and stews and on kabobs, and used in curries and
is nutritious, being low in calories, fat, and sodium. It is high
in fiber, and provides additional
nutrients such as potassium, magnesium, folic acid, vitamin B6 and
Follow several tips on preparation
and cooking to maximize your enjoyment of eggplant. To prepare
eggplants, if you want to keep the
calories and fat low, cook in broth, wine, or vegetable juice instead
of oil or
butter. Since the flesh discolors
quickly, use right away after cutting.
Lightly sprinkle slices with lemon juice to help prevent
browning. Cut slices with a stainless steel knife since
carbon blades will cause discoloration.
Cooking in an aluminum pan also will cause blackening.
Since eggplant is over 90 percent
water, some recommend salting slices or cubes for a couple hours before
cooking. Then rinse well to wash off the
salt, drain, and pat dry before cooking. If cooking in oil,
coat slices first with
breadcrumbs or a flour and egg mix to keep them from absorbing so much
You may want to soak large eggplants
in water for 15 minutes for using, or peeling the skin that contains
the bitter compounds. Keep in mind that
many newer varieties have good flavor without bitterness, and
time helps prevent bitterness.
You can learn more about the
eggplant and its culture in a fact sheet from the National Garden
(www.ngb.org). This site has fact sheets
on other vegetables too that you may find of interest.