Eggplant or aubergine (Solanum melongena) is a plant in the nightshade family domesticated in Asia thousands of years ago. The plant is indigenous to an area encompassing Northeast India, Northern Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Southwest China. Descriptions of the plant have been found in Sanskrit documents as early as 300 BC. By the Middle Ages eggplant had spread to the Mediterranean area and from there, north into Europe and south into Africa.
Eggplant is closely related to tomatoes, potatoes and peppers, which are also members of the Solanum family. Here in Yavapai County, seeds are generally germinated in a greenhouse in the spring and seedlings are transplanted into the ground between April and June. The plant is technically a perennial but is usually grown as an annual. The fruit is botanically a berry, with dozens of edible seeds inside. Eggplants come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors: slender and oblong, round, the size of a butternut squash or as small as a golf ball. Black, dark purple, lilac, reddish-purple, orange, green, yellow, white and purple and white striped varieties can usually be found at farmers markets. The name “eggplant” was given during the British occupation of India to a small, round white variety that resembled a chicken egg . Eggplants are generally harvested between July and November.
Eggplant is popular in food cultures around the world. It’s the main ingredient in the Arab dish baba ghanoush and the Italian dish ratatouille. It is widely used in Indian cuisine and appears in popular dishes in Turkey, Bangladesh, Romania, Greece and Iran. It is bitter when raw, but softens when cooked. Eggplant can be prepared in many ways—the most popular of which are roasting, stewing and sautéing. Its meaty flesh is capable of absorbing vast amounts of oils and fats, making those dishes rich. Eggplant is a good source of fiber, vitamin B1 and copper. Recent research has revealed that eggplant hosts dozens of compounds that function as antioxidants, making the fruit a healthy addition to meals.