[eggplant (U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand), brinjal (Indian and South African English), aubergine (British, French)]
These plants are members of the prolific Nightshade (Solanaceae) family. All are species Solanum melongena except as noted below. They got called "Eggplants" from white and yellow varieties about the size of hen, duck or goose eggs. These were common in times past and white ones are still seen in Southern California produce markets when they are in season.
More on Nightshades.
Eggplants are thought native to Southern India and Sri Lanka and have been cultivated since prehistoric times. They were probably brought to Europe by Arabs around 1500 CE. Europeans at first thought them poisonous since all their native nightshades were, but they were soon adopted into the cuisines of the Mediterranean region.
Eggplants are now grown worldwide and are available in many varieties and sizes (as all nightshades are). More varieties are grown in India than anywhere else, and while the common "Indian eggplant" well known in the U.S. weighs just a couple ounces, varieties as large as our globe eggplant are grown there.Varieties - Relatives Called "Eggplant"
African Eggplants -
[Gboma; Solanum macrocarpon (cultivated),
Solanum dasyphyllum (wild)]
Technically not an eggplant, but very closely related, this nightshade originated in West Africa. It has been introduced into Central and East Africa, the Caribbean, South America and parts of Southeast Asia. There are many cultivars and land races of this species which vary considerably in fruit size. The photo specimen has very long calyx lobes but some have medium or short lobes. Unripe they may be green, white or purple but generally ripen to yellow or yellow-brown.
Both fruit and young leaves are eaten. While both are quite bitter,
they are much liked in Africa, and are quite nutritious. Fruit is most
commonly harvested unripe and eaten raw or cooked. Leaves are alaways
cooked, either as a side dish or included in soups and stews. The bitter
flavor comes from toxic alkaloids, so it is recommended to not
over-indulge in this plant. Best substitute would be Thai eggplants,
but they are much less bitter. All parts of these plants are also used
Photo by Vinayaraj distributed under license Creative
Attribution-ShareAlike v3.0 Unported.
Ethiopian Eggplant -
[Bitter Tomato, Mock Tomato; Garden Eggs (Nigeria); Khamen Akhaba
(Manipuri, India); Samtawk (Mizoram, India); Solanum aethiopicum]
Various cultivars of these plants are grown in Asia and tropical Africa. As with other nightshades, there are many varieties. The photo specimens are from northeastern India, but some varieties, particularly in Africa, look like tiny pumpkins with very deep sutures, and ripen to orange. The fruit is usually picked unripe before the skin thickens, and is eaten both raw and cooked. It can be sweet or bitter depending on cultivar. Young leaves are cooked as nutritous greens.Fruit of this plant is particularly popular in Manipur and Mizoram in the extreme northeast of India. In Nigeria the fruits are used similarly to tomatoes to make a sauce. They are also used in curries in Thailand and Vietnam. A fair number are grown in Brazil for the African communities there, and a few are grown in Italy, probably brought back from Ethiopia by Italian soldiers. Photo by Tabish q at English Wikipedia distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike v3.0 Unported, attribution required.
Pea Eggplant -
[Thai Pea Eggplant; Turkey Berry, Susumber (Jamaica);
Sundaikkai (Tamil); Makhua phuang (Thai); Thibbatu (Sinhala);
This eggplant, producing fruit about 0.4 inch diameter, is native to the Americas, from Florida through the Caribbean and from Mexico south into Brazil. It has been naturalized throughout the tropics and can be a serious pest in some environments. The berries grow in clusters, and are usually picked green, but can ripen to yellow and bright red.
While somewhat more bitter than the green Thai eggplant, it is used in
many cuisines, particularly in Southeast Asia and southern India. It
has a significant place in the cuisines of Tamil Nadu. The fruits are
used both fresh, and slit and dried. I have not seen these for sale here
in Los Angeles, but seeds are easily available on-line.
Photo by Parvathisri distributed under license Creative
Attribution-ShareAlike v3.0 Unported.
Thorn Apple - [Bitter Apple;
This shrub is the plant from which the domesticated Eggplant was
developed. It is native to Sub-Saharan Africa, and South Asia from Arabia
east to India. The fruit is 1 to 1.4 inches diameter and ripens to
yellow or brown. All parts of the plant are toxic, but in West Africa
cultivars have been developed that provide larger, edible fruit and
edible leaves. Within its range this plant has a large number of
medicinal uses, but it is also used as a vegetable rennet in making
cheese. The photo specimen was photographed in the mountans of
Oman, in the far southeast of the Arabian Peninsula.
Photo by Nepenthes distributed under license Creative
Attribution-ShareAlike v3.0 Unported.
Some writers say these come in Male and Female versions, a biological
absurdity. For details see
"Male" & "Female" Eggplants.
This is the eggplant to presume in Indian and Burmese recipes unless the
instructions make it clear elongated or globe eggplants are intended. Indian
eggplants vary somewhat in size. The largest photo specimen was 3-3/4 inches
long, 2-3/8 inches diameter and weighing 4-1/8 ounces, a bit above average.
The smallest in the batch (not shown) was 1-7/8 inches diameter and weighed
just 1-1/8 ounces.
Mediterranean Sweet Eggplant
Thai Eggplant -
[Kermit Eggplant, Green Eggplant; Makua, Makhuea pro (Thai); Poluru
Vankayalu (India - Telugu); Solanum melongena]
These unique, easy to identify eggplants are growing in popularity and now widely available in California and the Southwest. They stay noticeably firmer than other eggplants when cooked so can take longer cooking and more abuse. These eggplants are never peeled. They are usually between 1-1/2 and 2-1/4 inches diameter and weigh up to 2-3/4 ounces. When cut, the seeds should be very light beige (the photo shows the darkest acceptable). If they are dark the eggplant is old and will be bitter.
Those grown in California are mainly green stripes over white or light green background, but some white are grown here. In Thailand yellow and light purple versions are also sold. An elongated light green Thai eggplant similar in appearance to the Japanese eggplant, except for color, is not yet available here.
These eggplants are also the predominant variety grown in Andhra
Pradesh and Tamil Nadu in southeastern India, particularly around
Nandyala. The Indian version tends to be a bit more elongated than the
Thai, but the coloration and cooking properties are the same. Natives
of the region living in California find the Thai variety quite
Vietnamese Pickled Eggplant
- [Ca Phao, Ca muoi (Viet)]
These are apparently ca trang (white eggplant) judging from the amount of
seeds. Another, ca nghe (yellow eggplant is also used for pickles but has
relatively fewer seeds. Very crunchy with a light eggplant flavor, they are
about 1 inch in diameter. In Vietnam, pickled eggplants of this sort are
considered an indispensable accompaniment for soups.
White eggplants have tough skins which need to be peeled (unless
you're stuffing them) but the flesh is a little more mild than purple
eggplants. The photo specimen in the center was 7-1/4 inches long, 1-7/8
inches diameter and weighed 5-3/4 ounces. Availability is erratic, both
for white eggplants at all and for particular shapes - you just have to
buy them when you can get them. Here in Los Angeles I saw these
occasionally a few years ago, but not at all for a couple of years now
Eggplants are a good source of dietary fiber and contain appreciable amounts of potassium, manganese, copper, Vitamin B1, B6 and foliate.
Scientific studies have concentrated on the high content of important antioxidants and free radical scavengers. Eggplants are considered very good for both anti-cancer and anti-cholesterol considerations.
Eggplants contain more oxalate than other nightshades and most other vegetables. Oxalates can affect persons with pre-existing kidney and gall bladder problems. While oxalates are known to inhibit calcium absorption this effect is very small and foods containing oxalates generally provide more calcium to the diet than they inhibit.
Eggplants contain an unusually high amount of nicotine alkaloids, but you would have to eat at least 20 pounds of eggplant to achieve the amount from smoking one cigarette.
Eggplants prepared certain ways can cause a very light but noticeable stinging sensation in the mouth. This is normal and harmless.
Claims have been made that arthritis symptoms were relieved by removal of all nightshades (eggplant, tomatoes, potatoes, etc.) from the diet, but these claims have not been confirmed by any controlled study.
Much anti-nightshade propaganda originates from the Michio Kushi Macrobiotics movement - much more religion than science. They claim all nightshades (eggplants, tomatoes, potatoes, chilis, etc.) are highly toxic and will ruin your health in short order. If there was any truth to that I'd have died decades ago.
Populations with heavy eggplant consumption, particularly India, do not appear to be suffering population decline nor any other ailment that can be attributed to eggplants.Links