|The fruit of eggplant developing on the plant|
Solanum ovigerum Dunal
Eggplant (Solanum melongena), or in Britain, Ireland and France, aubergine, is a species in the nightshade family (Solanaceae). It is grown for its edible spongy absorbent fruit widely used in cooking. Most people consider it a vegetable despite its botanical definition as a berry fruit, a member of the genus Solanum related to the tomato and the potato. Like the tomato its skin and seeds can be eaten, but like the potato it is not to be eaten raw.
The eggplant is a delicate, tropical perennial plant often cultivated as a tender or half-hardy annual in temperate climates. The stem is often spiny. The flowers are white to purple in color, with a five-lobed corolla and yellow stamens. Some common cultivars have fruit that is egg-shaped, glossy, and purple with white flesh and a spongy, "meaty" texture. Some other cultivars are white and longer in shape. The cut surface of the flesh rapidly turns brown when the fruit is cut open (oxidation).
Eggplant grows 40 to 150 cm (1.3 to 4.9 ft) tall, with large, coarsely lobed leaves that are 10 to 20 cm (3.9 to 7.9 in) long and 5 to 10 cm (2.0 to 3.9 in) broad. Semiwild types can grow much larger, to 225 cm (7.38 ft), with large leaves over 30 cm (12 in) long and 15 cm (5.9 in) broad. On wild plants, the fruit is less than 3 cm (1.2 in) in diameter; in cultivated forms: 30 cm (12 in) or more in length are possible for long, narrow types or the large fat purple ones common to the West.
The plant species originated in cultivation. It has been cultivated in southern and eastern Asia since prehistory. The first known written record of the plant is found in Qimin Yaoshu, an ancient Chinese agricultural treatise completed in 544. The numerous Arabic and North African names for it, along with the lack of the ancient Greek and Roman names, indicate it was introduced throughout the Mediterranean area by the Arabs in the early Middle Ages. A book on agriculture by Ibn Al-Awwam in 12th-century Arabic Spain described how to grow aubergines. Records exist from later medieval Catalan and Spanish.
The aubergine is unrecorded in England until the 16th century. An English botany book in 1597 stated:
This plant groweth in Egypt almost everywhere... bringing forth fruit of the bigness of a great cucumber.... We have had the same in our London gardens, where it hath borne flowers, but the winter approaching before the time of ripening, it perished: nothwithstanding it came to bear fruit of the bigness of a goose egg one extraordinary temperate year... but never to the full ripeness.
Because of the plant's relationship with various other nightshades, the fruit was at one time believed to be extremely poisonous. The flowers and leaves can be poisonous if consumed in large quantities due to the presence of solanine.
The eggplant has a special place in folklore. In 13th-century Italian traditional folklore, the eggplant can cause insanity. In 19th-century Egypt, insanity was said to be "more common and more violent" when the eggplant is in season in the summer.
Etymology and regional names
The plant and fruit have a profusion of English names: eggplant (North America, Australia), aubergine (Britain, German, French, Dutch), mad-apple, or guinea squash (U.S. South). The Arabic name, (al)-bāḏinjān, is the common source of all European names for eggplant, but through two distinct paths of transmission, with the melongene family coming through the eastern Mediterranean, and the aubergine family through the western Mediterranean.
|“||...probably there is no word of the kind which has undergone such extraordinary variety of modifications, whilst retaining the same meaning, as this...||”|
|— Hobson-Jobson (1886)|
First recorded in 1763, the word "eggplant" was originally applied to white cultivars (right image). The Anglo-Indian name, brinjal or brinjaul, derives from Arabic through the Portuguese, beringela.
Different cultivars of the plant produce fruit of different size, shape, and color, though typically purple. The most widely cultivated varieties—cultivars—in Europe and North America today are elongated ovoid, 12–25 centimetres (4 1⁄2–10 in) long and 6–9 cm (2 1⁄2–3 1⁄2 in) broad with a dark purple skin.
A much wider range of shapes, sizes, and colors is grown in India and elsewhere in Asia. Larger cultivars weighing up to a kilogram (2.2 pounds) grow in the region between the Ganges and Yamuna Rivers, while smaller ones are found elsewhere. Colors vary from white to yellow or green, as well as reddish-purple and dark purple. Some cultivars have a color gradient—white at the stem, to bright pink, deep purple or even black. Green or purple cultivars with white striping also exist. Chinese cultivars are commonly shaped like a narrower, slightly pendulous cucumber. Also, Asian cultivars of Japanese breeding are grown.
- Oval or elongated oval-shaped and black-skinned cultivars include 'Harris Special Hibush', 'Burpee Hybrid', 'Bringal Bloom', 'Black Magic', 'Classic', 'Dusky', and 'Black Beauty'.
- Slim cultivars in purple-black skin include 'Little Fingers', 'Ichiban', 'Pingtung Long', and 'Tycoon'
- In green skin, 'Louisiana Long Green' and 'Thai (Long) Green'
- In white skin, 'Dourga'.
- Traditional, white-skinned, egg-shaped cultivars include 'Casper' and 'Easter Egg'.
- Bicolored cultivars with color gradient include 'Rosa Bianca', 'Violetta di Firenze', 'Bianca Sfumata di Rosa' (heirloom), and 'Prosperosa' (heirloom).
- Bicolored cultivars with striping include 'Listada de Gandia' and 'Udumalapet'.
- In some parts of India, miniature cultivars, most commonly called vengan, are popular.
- S. m. var. esculentum – common aubergine, including white varieties, with many cultivars
- S. m. var. depressum – dwarf aubergine
- S. m. var. serpentium – snake aubergine
Genetically engineered aubergine
Bt brinjal is a transgenic aubergine that contains a gene from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis. This variety was designed to give the plant resistance to lepidopteran insects such as the brinjal fruit and shoot borer (Leucinodes orbonalis) and fruit borer (Helicoverpa armigera).
On 9 February 2010, the Environment Ministry of India imposed a moratorium on the cultivation of Bt brinjal after protests against regulatory approval of cultivated Bt brinjal in 2009, stating the moratorium would last "for as long as it is needed to establish public trust and confidence". This decision was deemed controversial, as it deviated from previous practices with other genetically modified crops in India. Bt brinjal was approved for commercial cultivation in Bangaladesh in 2013.
Cooking and preparing
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Raw eggplant can have a bitter taste, with an astringent quality, but it becomes tender when cooked and develops a rich, complex flavor. The fruit is capable of absorbing large amounts of cooking fats and sauces, which may enrich dishes.
Many recipes advise salting, rinsing, and draining the sliced fruit (a process known as "degorging") to soften it and reduce the amount of fat absorbed, but mainly to remove the bitterness inherent in earlier cultivars. Some modern cultivars, including the common large purple ones in the Western world, do not need this treatment.
Eggplant is used in the cuisines of many countries. Due to its texture and bulk, it is sometimes used as a meat substitute in vegan and vegetarian cuisines. Eggplant flesh is smooth. Its numerous seeds are small, soft and edible, along with the rest of the fruit, and do not have to be removed. Its thin skin is also edible, and so it does not have to be peeled. However, the green part at the top, the calyx, does have to be removed when preparing an eggplant for cooking.
Eggplant can be steamed, stir fried, pan fried, deep fried, barbecued (BBQ) or roasted. Many eggplant dishes are sauces made by mashing the cooked fruit. It can also be stewed, curried, or pickled. It can even be stuffed. It is frequently, but not always, cooked with fat because of its ability to absorb fat during cooking.
In Chinese cuisine, eggplants are known as qiézi (茄子). They are often deep fried and made into dishes such as yúxiāng-qiézi ("fish fragrance eggplant") or di sān xiān ("three earthen treasures"). Elsewhere in China, such as in Yunnan cuisine (in particular the cuisine of the Dai people) they are barbequed or roasted, then split and either eaten directly with garlic, chilli, oil and coriander, or the flesh is removed and pounded in to a mash (with a typically wooden pestle and mortar) before being consumed with rice or other dishes.
Eggplant is widely used in its native India, for example in sambar (a tamarind lentil stew), dalma (a dal preparation with vegetables, native to Odisha), chutney, curry, and achaar (a pickled dish). Owing to its versatile nature and wide use in both everyday and festive Indian food, it is often described as the "king of vegetables". Roasted, skinned, mashed, mixed with onions, tomatoes, and spices, and then slow cooked gives the South Asian dish baingan bharta or gojju, similar to salată de vinete in Romania. Another version of the dish, begun-pora (eggplant charred or burnt), is very popular in Bangladesh and the east Indian states of Odisha and West Bengal where the pulp of the vegetable is mixed with raw chopped shallot, green chilies, salt, fresh coriander, and mustard oil. Sometimes fried tomatoes and deep-fried potatoes are also added, creating a dish called begun bhorta. In a dish from Maharashtra called bharli vangi, small brinjals are stuffed with ground coconut, peanuts, onions, tamarind, jaggery and masala spices, and then cooked in oil.
Middle East and the Mediterranean
Eggplant is often stewed, as in the French ratatouille. Eggplant is also often deep fried as in the Italian parmigiana di melanzane, the Turkish karnıyarık, or Turkish, Greek, and Levantine musakka/moussaka, and Middle Eastern and South Asian dishes. Eggplants can also be battered before deep-frying and served with a sauce made of tahini and tamarind. In Iranian cuisine, it is blended with whey as kashk e bademjan, tomatoes as mirza ghassemi, or made into stew as khoresh-e-bademjan. It can be sliced and deep-fried, then served with plain yogurt (optionally topped with a tomato and garlic sauce), such as in the Turkish dish patlıcan kızartması (meaning fried aubergines), or without yogurt, as in patlıcan şakşuka. Perhaps the best-known Turkish eggplant dishes are imam bayıldı (vegetarian) and karnıyarık (with minced meat).
It may also be roasted in its skin until charred, so the pulp can be removed and blended with other ingredients, such as lemon, tahini, and garlic, as in the Arab baba ghanoush and the similar Greek melitzanosalata. A mix of roasted eggplant, roasted red peppers, chopped onions, tomatoes, mushrooms, carrots, celery, and spices is called zacuscă in Romania, and ajvar or pinjur in the Balkans.
A Spanish dish called escalivada in Catalonia calls for strips of roasted aubergine, sweet pepper, onion, and tomato. In Andalusia, eggplant is mostly cooked thinly sliced, deep-fried in olive oil and served hot with honey (berenjenas a la Cordobesa). In the La Mancha region of central Spain, a small eggplant is pickled in vinegar, paprika, olive oil, and red peppers. The result is berenjena of Almagro, Ciudad Real.
Cultivation and pests
In tropical and subtropical climates, eggplant can be sown directly into the garden. Eggplant grown in temperate climates fares better when transplanted into the garden after all danger of frost has passed. Eggplant prefers hot weather, and when grown in cold climates or in areas with low humidity, the plants languish or fail to set and produce mature fruit. Seeds are typically started eight to 10 weeks prior to the anticipated frost-free date. S. melongena is included on a list of low flammability plants, indicating that it is suitable for growing within a building protection zone.
Spacing should be 45 to 60 cm (18 to 24 in) between plants, depending on cultivar, and 60 to 90 cm (24 to 35 in) between rows, depending on the type of cultivation equipment being used. Mulching helps conserve moisture and prevent weeds and fungal diseases and the plants benefit from some shade during the hottest part of the day. Hand pollination by shaking the flowers improves the set of the first blossoms. Growers typically cut fruits from the vine just above the calyx owing to the somewhat woody stems. Flowers are complete, containing both female and male structures, and may be self-pollinated or cross-pollinated.
Many of the pests and diseases that afflict other solanaceous plants, such as tomato, capsicum, and potato, are also troublesome to eggplants. For this reason, it should generally not be planted in areas previously occupied by its close relatives. However, since eggplants can be particularly susceptible to pests such as whiteflies, they are sometimes grown with slightly less susceptible plants, such as pepper, as a sacrificial trap crop. Four years should separate successive crops of eggplants to reduce pest pressure.
Common North American pests include the potato beetles, flea beetles, aphids, whiteflies, and spider mites. Good sanitation and crop rotation practices are extremely important for controlling fungal disease, the most serious of which is Verticillium.
In 2016, global production of eggplants was 51.3 million tonnes. That year, almost 1.8 million hectares (4.4 million acres) were devoted to the cultivation of eggplants in the world. Over 62% of that output came from China alone. India (24.5% of world total), Egypt, Turkey, and Iran were also major producers.
|Top countries in eggplant production (2016)|
|Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)|
|Energy||104 kJ (25 kcal)|
|Dietary fiber||3 g|
|Pantothenic acid (B5)||
†Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for adults. |
Source: USDA Nutrient Database
Raw eggplant is composed of 92% water, 6% carbohydrates, 1% protein, and negligible fat (table). It provides low amounts of essential nutrients, with only manganese having a moderate percentage (11%) of the Daily Value. Minor changes in nutrient composition occur with season, environment of cultivation (open field or greenhouse), and genotype.
The potato tuber moth (Phthorimaea operculella) is an oligophagous insect that prefers to feed on plants of the family Solanaceae such as eggplants. Female P. operculella use the leaves to lay their eggs and the hatched larvae will eat away at the mesophyll of the leaf.
The color of purple skin cultivars is due to the anthocyanin nasunin.
Case reports of itchy skin or mouth, mild headache, and stomach upset after handling or eating eggplant have been reported anecdotally and published in medical journals (see also oral allergy syndrome).
A 2008 study of a sample of 741 people in India, where eggplant is commonly consumed, found nearly 10% reported some allergic symptoms after consuming eggplant, with 1.4% showing symptoms within two hours. Contact dermatitis from eggplant leaves and allergy to eggplant flower pollen have also been reported.
Individuals who are atopic (genetically predisposed to developing certain allergic hypersensitivity reactions) are more likely to have a reaction to eggplant, which may be because eggplant is high in histamines. A few proteins and at least one secondary metabolite have been identified as potential allergens. Cooking eggplant thoroughly seems to preclude reactions in some individuals, but at least one of the allergenic proteins survives the cooking process.
The eggplant is quite often featured in the older scientific literature under the junior synonyms S. ovigerum and S. trongum. Several other now-invalid names have been uniquely applied to it:
- Melongena ovata Mill.
- Solanum album Noronha
- Solanum insanum L.
- Solanum longum Roxb.
- Solanum melanocarpum Dunal
- Solanum melongenum St.-Lag.
- Solanum oviferum Salisb.
- Prachi Salisb.
A number of subspecies and varieties have been named, mainly by Dikii, Dunal, and (invalidly) by Sweet. Names for various eggplant types, such as agreste, album, divaricatum, esculentum, giganteum, globosi, inerme, insanum, leucoum, luteum, multifidum, oblongo-cylindricum, ovigera, racemiflorum, racemosum, ruber, rumphii, sinuatorepandum, stenoleucum, subrepandum, tongdongense, variegatum, violaceum, and viride, are not considered to refer to anything more than cultivar groups at best. However, Solanum incanum and cockroach berry (S. capsicoides), other eggplant-like nightshades described by Linnaeus and Allioni, respectively, were occasionally considered eggplant varieties, but this is not correct.
The eggplant has a long history of taxonomic confusion with the scarlet and Ethiopian eggplants (Solanum aethiopicum), known as gilo and nakati, respectively, and described by Linnaeus as S. aethiopicum. The eggplant was sometimes considered a variety violaceum of that species. S. violaceum of de Candolle applies to Linnaeus' S. aethiopicum. An actual S. violaceum, an unrelated plant described by Ortega, included Dunal's S. amblymerum and was often confused with the same author's S. brownii.
Like the potato and S. lichtensteinii, but unlike the tomato, which then was generally put in a different genus, the eggplant was also described as S. esculentum, in this case once more in the course of Dunal's work. He also recognized the varieties aculeatum, inerme, and subinerme at that time. Similarly, H.C.F. Schuhmacher and Peter Thonning named the eggplant as S. edule, which is also a junior synonym of sticky nightshade (S. sisymbriifolium). Scopoli's S. zeylanicum refers to the eggplant, and that of Blanco to S. lasiocarpum.
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