Icon of the Mediterranean cuisine, the eggplant is part of these chameleon foods which can be cooked in a thousand ways. The eggplant is a fruit eaten as a vegetable and has many varieties even if the purple variety is most widespread. Its oblong shape and pretty purple color make the eggplant a popular and appreciated vegetable appreciated also because of its fleshy side, its subtle and tasty flesh.
Eggplant over time
The “eggplant” term, which appeared in the language in 1750, comes from catalan albergina, which borrowed it-turn from Arabic al-badinjan. Note that the French word is used in many languages included among the Anglo-Saxons.
History of eggplant
Eggplant has been domesticated in India and was consumed since 2,500 years to 4,000 years. Its wild ancestor came from Africa, where there are multitudes of Solanum species with very similar characteristics with respect to those of the cultivated eggplant. From India it spread to China around 700 years before our era where we produce small fruits of green, white, red and lavender varieties were produced. It’s was mentioned for the first time in a Chinese Treaty dating from 500 years before our era. It was then introduced in the Arab world from the 9th century on, migranting then to western Egypt, and northern Turkey. It appeared in Spain between the 8th and the 11th century. In this country, people quickly learned how to appreciate it. Meanwhile elsewhere in Europe it was mistrusted for a long time. This was the case probably because of its resemblance to toxic plants (Mandrake, Belladonna and Datura) of the Solanaceae family. Because of the Italian name melanzena related to corruption, people called it mala insana (literally ‘unhealthy apple’) and it was acknowledged to make people crazy for those consuming this vegetable.
The Spaniards introduced eggplant in Latin America in the 16th century, but it appeared in North America only 150 years later. Into the 1950s, big purple fruit varieties were produced for human consumption. The others were reserved for ornamental garden.
Today, it is grown in all warm and temperate regions. Often used among Arabs in the kitchen, it’s an essential vegetable for recipes in the Middle East, where it is called “caviar of the poor”. It’s told Turks created a thousand recipes to highlight eggplant.
There are a multitude of eggplant varieties ranging in size of the pea to the melon. The color also varied from white to purple, through green, yellow, and orange. It could be that in the near future, those come in addition to this rich range of fruit from Africa, where people also consume the leaves of many varieties.
Eggplant is a great vegetable giving flavor to ratatouille (French dish) and moussaka (Greek dish). In India, this vegetable is very popular. It is well recognized from its skin with a deep purple, but there are also other eggplants varieties such as the yellow, green and white ones. Eggplant is low in calories, unless you cook it with a lot of fat. In addition, it’s rich in antioxidants.
Active substances and properties
For vegetables in general
Several epidemiological studies showed high consumption of fruits and vegetables decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, cancers and other chronical diseases. Some mechanisms of action have been proposed to explain these protective effects with the presence of antioxidants in fruits and vegetables which may play a role.
For the eggplant
Skin: full of antioxidants
The eggplant can be peeled. Yet its peel is edible and contains large amount of antioxidants, especially when it has a very pronounced color.
Antioxidants. Antioxidants are compounds protecting cells in the body from damage caused by free radicals. They are molecules which are highly reactive and would be involved in the development of cardiovascular disease, some cancers and other diseases related to illness. The eggplant is regarded as having a high antioxidant level and scientific research has started to analyze the potential benefits. Studies in vitro and among animals using a mixture of antioxidants in eggplant reported results of a decrease in oxidation of the ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL) and a decrease in blood fat concentration. Other researchers looked specifically at some eggplant antioxidants, but for now, the results are still preliminary and do not yet apply to the human body.
Phenolic acids. Phenolic acids are one of the main antioxidants classes of eggplant, which is the most abundant chlorogenic acid. This compound is high in vitro antioxidant activity. However, researchers noted that chlorogenic acid from food could be absorbed in rather low proportion among human body. It is unclear if the amount of chlorogenic acid obtained by eggplant may be enough to observe antioxidant effects among humans.
Anthocyanins. Eggplant is also rich in antioxidant pigments of anthocyanins category, particularly if it has a dark skin. Moreover, American scientists discovered that a certain type of eggplant called Black magic contained almost three times more anthocyanins than other varieties of eggplant analyzed. Nasunine is one of the main skin pigments of eggplant. Researchers demonstrated in-vitro a protection capacity against oxidative effect. Other researchers have shown that nasunine decreased in vitro unusual proliferation of blood vessels involved in the development of tumors and cardiovascular diseases. However, these results cannot be translated directly to humans.
Selection, preparation and conservation
The skin should be smooth and brilliant, the sepals should be green and thorny, and adhere to the skin. Avoid the fruit whose skin is wrinkled and whose color is matte and pulls towards brown. The flesh may then be bitter, fibrous and contain many seeds.
– You can salt the eggplant and let soak in salt, even if it’s not essential. By doing this you will reduce the amount of oil it will absorb during cooking. This will be highly appreciated for people who avoid eating this fruit for fear of calories. Rinse to remove the salt and pat dry.
– To avoid the flesh darkening under the oxygen action; put little bit of lemon juice.
– Some people advice to always peel the eggplant. Other advice is to peel very ripe fruits, whose skin is bitter and thicker. In Egypt, people never peel eggplants.
Refrigerator: Eggplant doesn’t like the cold and cannot be kept well in the fridge. Consume it as soon as possible after purchase. If necessary, it will keep a week or two in the crisper of the refrigerator.
Freezer: Wash, peel and slice in approximately one centimeter of thickness. Blanch four minutes in water to which a little lemon juice has been added. Cool, drain and put in airtight bags in the freezer, by sliding a piece of wax paper between the slices. It will keep eight to ten months. Cook without defrosting the vegetable. You can also freeze stews made from eggplant.
Ground: Eggplant (solanum melongena) needs a rich and well-drained land. In the garden, bury an organic fertilizer in winter. The plant grows well in a pot; it’s possible to recycle used black plastic containers containing shrubs purchased at the nursery.
Location: The ideal is a hot and sunny location in the garden. Because of its tropical origins, you should cultivate the eggplant under greenhouse in all cool and wet climates.
Purchase: Buy wholesale nurseries plants in bucket more or less depending on your patience. Smaller, the price is reasonable and generally rooting is more reliable. But the flowers will take more time to come.
Culture: from seedlings or plants in buckets: Sow eggplants in cups between January and March according to your region. Place 2 to 3 seeds per bucket, and once the plant starts growing only keep the most robust plant. If you prefer a faster way, it is possible to buy in garden center buckets ready to plant between March and May.
When the plants reach 12 to 15cm (they have usually 5 sheets), put them in the ground at their final location (garden or pot). You can do it generally between April and June in Europe, when frosts are no longer to be feared.
Size: Remove the side shoots and cut above the second flower. Keep 3 or 4 side branches that grow and cut them as soon as they have 2 flowers, just above a leaf. You will limit harvest to about 8 fruits, which is optimal for a normal foot.
Maintenance Water regularly, but not too much (rotting danger). Potted plants need to be fed every week with a liquid fertilizer rich in potash.
Harvest The harvest takes place about 5 months after sowing. Pick well the colored fruit with smooth and firm skin by cutting the stem with shears.
The flea beetle is an insect that parasite many vegetable plants at the end of spring. It can cause significant damage to young plants. You should protect the plants with an agrotextile. The Colorado beetle can also constitute a serious problem. Destroy the insects by hand, or eliminate it using rotenone. Its natural predators are ladybugs. You can use them against Colorado beetle or encourage ladybugs which are already in the garden to stay there.
Ecology and environment
Methyl bromide is widely used in agriculture against insects, bacteria and fungi harmful to crops and against certain weed species. Its use is widespread in tomatoes, strawberries, eggplant and peppers culture. It is used to fight against insects and fungi that may affect the quality of the products also in warehouse.
But it’s also a product that is very harmful for the ozone layer, groundwater, animal life, marine ecosystems, and plants. It is also toxic for humans (respiratory failure, prostate cancer and death), to the point that his job requires specialized training. It is more dangerous to marine ecosystems, animal life and plants.
The many proposed solutions include crop rotation, fallowing, use green manures, mulch and compost. These ancient techniques were used by our ancestor’s farmers to survive without using methyl bromide. In addition, two other promising methods could be implemented. The first on is biofumigation, which is used to cultivate and bury plants, before starting the culture, plants that release natural fumigants in the ground, especially those of the cabbage and mustard family. The second method is solarization. It’s used to sterilize soil with the heat of the sun by covering a transparent plastic sheet. This technique is used in at least 40 countries and is known for several years. In addition, it is two or three times less expensive than methyl bromide applications.