Botanical name: Solanum melongena
Asked to describe an eggplant, most would mention dark purple, glossy, and shaped like a very large teardrop. Eggplants are known as aubergines in other parts of the world, where they're much more popular. India is said to be the native country of this strange-looking fruit - because that's what it is, rather than a vegetable.
There are many eggplant varieties. One eggplant type is small, white, and looks a lot like an egg, another is long and skinny like a bean, while the "Toga" variety is yellow-orange with green stripes. But all of these hang suspended from tall plants that can reach several feet in height.
Eggplants made their first appearance in Europe in the 14th century, and Thomas Jefferson first introduced them to 18th century America. Florida, California, and Georgia are leaders in U.S. eggplant production.
When choosing an eggplant, it should be firm and not too large. The length of a cucumber and the general circumference of a large pear should be about right. Smaller eggplants are less likely to be bitter (a bit of salt can help with this) and have fewer seeds, although these are edible.
The above nutrition chart is for raw eggplant, but it's a tad bland in its raw form. It's usually served baked rather than raw or boiling, which some cultures do, although it makes the white flesh inside a little mushy. Grilled is a more healthful way to prepare this vegetable to retain the most natural goodness. Culinary creativity can bring out the best features of this veggie.
Health Benefits of Eggplant
While eggplants don't have an overwhelming supply of any one nutrient, they do contain an impressive array across the board of many vitamins and minerals, such as excellent amounts of fiber, folate, potassium and manganese, as well as vitamins C, K, and B6, phosphorus, copper, thiamin, niacin, magnesium, and pantothenic acid.
Studies indicate that eggplant has a number of health benefits from all these ingredients, as well as traditional uses. Sometimes, the leaves and roots are juiced or boiled to make a tonic for throat and stomach troubles, asthma, skin diseases, rheumatism, inflammation, intestinal hemorrhages, foot pain, coughs, anorexia, toothache, or as a general stimulant.
Modern-day scientists found that the Black Magic variety of eggplant contains nearly three times the amount of antioxidant phenolics they found in other eggplant types. Phenols are known to be one of the most powerful free radical scavengers, which can prevent cancer development and heart disease, but it's these very attributes that give eggplants a slight bitter taste.
Another study found that anthocyanin phytonutrients in the skin of eggplants, called nasunin, is a potent antioxidant that zaps free radicals and protects the lipids (fats) in brain cell membranes from damage.
One interesting aspect of eggplant is its shady connections, since it's a member of the nightshade family of plants with tomatoes, potatoes, and bell peppers, as well as chili peppers, habeneros, jalapenos, and paprika. Many nutritionists caution that too many servings of eggplant might cause problems. In fact, ancient Mediterranean people reportedly nicknamed it “mad apple,” believing that eating eggplant every day for a month would cause insanity.
India recently charged Monsanto with biopiracy for alleged attempts to genetically modify indigenous eggplants.
Eggplant Nutrition Facts
Serving Size: One cup of raw, cubed eggplant (82 grams)
Amt. Per Serving
Studies Done on Eggplants
Eggplants, potatoes, and tomatoes (all nightshades) were tested and found to have antiproliferative activities against human colon and liver cancer cells1. In another study, eggplant extract was found to have an inhibitory effect on human fibrosarcoma (soft tissue-related) cell invasion.
Delphinidin, a natural compound in the eggplant extract, was found to be the component responsible for inhibiting the activity of the fibrocarcinoma's secretions degrading healthy cells as part of the invasive process2.
Eggplant Healthy Recipes: Eggplant Sandwich
- 3 medium eggplants
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil
- Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
- 2 yellow bell peppers
- 12 sun-dried tomatoes
- 8 ounces of goat cheese
- 16 small basil leaves
- Cut each eggplant lengthwise into slices about ½ inch thick. Take the largest eight slices and place on a baking pan. Sprinkle with salt and let sit for 20 minutes.
- Thoroughly rinse eggplant slices and pat dry.
- Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the coconut oil and heat until glistening. Add eggplant slices 2 at a time. Cook until browned, about 3 minutes per side. Remove from pan and set aside to drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- Roast bell peppers on grill, or on a grill pan, preheated on high. Arrange whole peppers on grill and cook until the skin is charred, about 5 minutes per side. Place peppers in a paper bag. This allows the skin to be removed easily. Allow to cool in bag for about 20 minutes. Pull or scrape the skin off with your fingers or a paring knife. Cut off the stem end, cut open the peppers and scrape out seeds and membrane. Cut into strips about 1 inch wide.
- Cut sun-dried tomatoes into strips.
- Assemble the sandwiches by placing an eggplant slice on a plate. Spread each slice with goat cheese and top as desired with slices of roasted peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, and basil leaves. To complete the sandwich, place another eggplant slice on top.
This recipe makes four servings.
(From Healthy Recipes for Your Nutritional Type by Dr. Mercola)
Eggplant Fun Facts
Eggplant goes back about 2,000 years in the recorded history of India, and there are actually more than 30 Sanskrit names for the fruit in ancient Indian literature. Some of these might be found at the USDA's eggplant collection in Griffin, Georgia, stocked with roughly 770 different varieties from around the world. While most may be unavailable at your local grocer, they're sometimes found in gourmet and ethnic food stores and farmers' markets.
Eggplant (aubergine) is one of those plant-based foods that many Americans are unfamiliar with. In fact, they weren't often eaten until more recently in North America. They were first grown as an ornamental plant. They are very attractive, with their glossy purple skin and interesting varieties.
Used as a traditional medicine in some Asian cultures, others have found eggplants to be a must for such dishes as eggplant parmesan and usually in casseroles with other vegetables, cheese, meat, and herbs.
Recently, scientists have found eggplant to contain powerful antioxidant phenols, including the anthocyanin phytonutrient nasunin, which is important for neutralizing damaging free radicals in your body.
Eggplant comes from the nightshade family of plants, with potatoes, tomatoes, all kinds of peppers, including cayenne, with a somewhat controversial potential for adverse reactions after eating. But in European and Middle Eastern cuisine, eggplant could be called a delicacy, a tradition or perhaps a comfort food. As with any other food, it's often all about the preparation.