The glossy, purple, teardrop-shaped eggplant may be the only one you know, but this versatile vegetable comes in a variety of colors and shapes. Dig a little deeper at your local farmers market and you're likely to find oval, long and slim, and melon-shaped eggplants with white, green, pink, orange, and even striped skin.
When you cut one open, you'll find meaty white flesh, maybe with a hint of green or yellow, dotted with small clusters of beige seeds. If the inside is brown, the eggplant might have gone bad.
The eggplant is a nightshade vegetable, like potatoes, tomatoes, and peppers. It originally comes from India and Asia, where it still grows wild. Eggplants made their way to Europe with the Islamic empire in the 7th and 8th centuries.
Historians believe the British coined the term eggplant during their occupation of India. Aubergine and brinjal are other names for it.
Eggplant has a rich, meaty inside that takes on a creamy consistency when you cook it. The hearty texture makes it a good stand-in for meat.
Eggplant comes in these varieties:
- Dusky or classic -- the familiar eggplant shape with shiny purple skin
- Epic -- teardrop-shaped with purple-black skin
- Black bell -- pear-shaped with glossy black skin
- Ghostbuster -- long, white, oval
- Ichiban -- long, thin, purple
- Slim Jim -- thin, bright purple
- Easter egg -- small, oval that's colored white, orange, yellow, or green
Nutrients per Serving
A 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of eggplant has:
A serving also has vitamins such as:
You'll get these minerals in one serving:
- Calcium: 9 milligrams
- Iron: 0.23 milligrams
- Magnesium: 14 milligrams
- Phosphorus: 24 milligrams
- Potassium: 229 milligrams
The eggplant has been an ingredient in traditional medicine for thousands of years. In the ancient Indian system of ayurvedic medicine, practitioners used white eggplant to treat diabetes and the roots to relieve asthma.
While eggplant isn't the most nutritious vegetable, it does give you a decent supply of potassium and fiber. And at just 25 calories and less than 1 gram of fat per serving, it's a pretty guilt-free food -- as long as you don't soak it in oil.
Eggplant has antioxidants like vitamins A and C, which help protect your cells against damage. It's also high in natural plant chemicals called polyphenols, which may help cells do a better job of processing sugar if you have diabetes.
Early lab studies in cells suggest that eggplant protects against the type of DNA damage that leads to cancer. But researchers still need to confirm this benefit in humans.
Are There Any Risks?
Eggplant and other nightshade vegetables have the chemical solanine, which some people claim adds to inflammation and makes diseases like arthritis worse. There's no solid evidence that the small amount of solanine in eggplant worsens arthritis symptoms. But if you notice that your joint pain flares up after you eat eggplant, avoid it.
How to Prepare and Store Eggplant
Before you cook eggplant, wash it and cut off both ends. The skin is OK to eat, but you might want to remove it if you find it too chewy.
Eggplant is naturally a little bitter. Sprinkle it with salt and let it sit for 30 minutes. The salt will draw out some of the bitterness. It will also prevent the eggplant from absorbing too much oil and becoming greasy during cooking. Rinse off the salt before you cook it.
You can roast, bake, steam, or sauté eggplant. When it's cut up, it makes a good addition to curries and soups. And, of course, a favorite recipe is eggplant parmesan, but keep in mind that rolling eggplant in breadcrumbs and frying it in oil will add calories and fat. To make a lighter version, bake the eggplant instead of frying it.
To bake a whole eggplant, first pierce the skin with a fork the way you would a baked potato. After about 30 minutes in the oven, you can scoop out the insides and stuff the eggplant, or mash the pulp into a soup, stew, or dip.
Don't cut an eggplant until you're ready to cook it. These vegetables go bad quickly. Instead, put it in the fridge, where you can safely store it for up to a week.