Skinny, large, tiny, fat, round, long, squat, purple, green, white, orange — Yep, we’re talking about eggplant. This member of the nightshade family not only comes in all shapes, sizes and colors, but is also very tasty and enjoyed the world over. We are fortunate to have local farmers growing delicious eggplant right here in the Hudson Valley.
Why is there no egg in eggplant?
Eggplant was first discovered in India by the British. They stumbled upon a small, white vegetable that had an egg shape. They very creatively called this vegetable an eggplant.
Eggplant, botanically speaking, is a fruit. Specifically, it is a berry. So not only is there no egg in an eggplant, but there is no vegetable in an eggplant, either. This brings us to vegetable taxation and a 1893 court ruling that stripped this seed-bearing “vegetable” of all its fruitfulness. That’s the same reason many vegetables with seeds (such as a tomato, pepper, cucumber, etc.) are legally considered fruit, not vegetables.
Eventually, eggplants made their way around the rest of Asia, then travelled to Europe and North Africa by the Persians and Arabs via the Mediterranean Sea. The white and purple varieties began to pop up in European gardens in the 1800s.
At first, some believed eggplant was a “mad apple” that caused insanity and death if consumed. Soon, the Spaniards realized they did no such thing and brought them over to the New World.
Take a walk through the farmers market in summer, and you’ll see countless types of eggplants, all unique in their own way. There are more than 1,000 varieties of eggplant. These are the eight most common types of eggplant you’ll find at the farmers market.
- Smooth, deep purple skin
- Similar to a Globe eggplant, but smaller
- Use them in any classic eggplant recipe
- The largest, fattest eggplant
- Smooth, dark purple skin
- Multipurpose variety that works for nearly all recipes
- Excellent for grilling
Sicilian Eggplant aka Graffiti Eggplant
- Purple and white stripes that disappear when cooked
- Useful for many recipes and cooking method
- A great substitute for Globe or Italian eggplants
- Sweeter and less bitter than Globe or Italian eggplants
Japanese or Chinese Eggplant
- Long, narrow shape
- Japanese eggplant have a darker color than the lighter purple shade of Chinese eggplant
- Thin skin is perfect for quick cooking methods like stir frying, frying or broiling
- Very few seeds
- Flesh turns creamy when cooked
- Small, cute impersonators of Italian and Sicilian eggplants
- Color varies from purple-and-white striped to dark purple, white or light purple
- Very tender, so they’re great for quick cooking methods like grilling or sautéing
- Smooth, white skin
- Excellent for a variety of cooking methods
- Small and egg shaped
- Dark reddish or purple skinned
- Great roasted, stuffed or cooked into a curry
- Tiny, round and green with white stripes
- Slightly more bitter than other types of eggplant
- Brining or salting Thai eggplant before cooking removes some of the bitterness
- Holds up to a lot of spice and heat, like a Thai curry
- Excellent for roasted stuffed eggplant
What to look for when shopping for eggplant?
The best eggplants are rich in color, smooth skinned and feel heavy for their weight. A lightweight eggplant is most likely full of seeds and not flesh. A bulging eggplant usually means there are too many seeds for cooking. You can also tell a male and female eggplant apart. Simply look at the indent at bottom. If it’s deep and shaped like a dash, it’s a female. If the indent is round and shallow, it’s a male. Female eggplants have more seeds and are also more bitter than the male variety.
To tell if an eggplant is ripe, gently press your finger into the skin. If it leaves a small indent, it is ripe. Don’t forget to look at the stem, too! If the stem looks old, shriveled or dried out, that’s because it is. That eggplant was probably picked a long time ago and left on the shelf to wither away.
It’s best to use eggplant within 24 hours of purchase, but they can be refrigerated up to four days. Eggplants bruise easily, so handle them with care. Wrap them in a paper towel and refrigerate in a perforated plastic bag in the crisper drawer of your fridge. Cooked eggplant can be refrigerated for three days.