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Everything You Need to Know About Eggplants

Karen Alexander, Licensed Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

May 17, 2019

Eggplant is one of the top ten vegetables due to its high antioxidant capacity. Originally from India, eggplant is called a vegetable but is actually a fruit. Eggplant is a member of the nightshade family, which includes tomatoes, potatoes, and peppers. Although there are several different eggplant species grown around the world, the one most commonly cultivated is Solanum melongena.

Eggplants have a savory flavor with sweet notes, but bitter alkaloids dominate in the peel and reside in the seeds, particularly in overly ripe eggplants. There are many sizes and shapes of fruit, with skin colors ranging from blackish purple to florescent purplish green to gold or white. The fruit has a dense, uniform and firm, white, sweet flesh.

Eggplant is an important component of the Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, African, and Asian cuisine. Eggplants are fat-free, cholesterol-free, sodium-free, and it is low in calories. It is also a very good source of dietary fiber, potassium, copper, vitamin B1 vitamin B6, folate, magnesium, and niacin. Carotenoid levels are highest at the early stages of eggplant fruit maturity, then decrease during eggplant fruit ripening.

Eggplant has a rich phytonutrient composition, including phenolic and antioxidant compounds (anthocyanins and phenolic acids). When added to the diet, anthocyanins seem to have health benefits preventing obesity, reducing triglyceride and cholesterol, and increasing good cholesterol (HDL). Some glycoalkaloids in eggplants have been studied due to their potential anticancer effect against lung cancer cells in vitro, but more studies are needed to confirm these results. In several studies, eggplant fruit extracts have shown to have excellent therapeutic effects on warts, burns, and many inflammatory diseases, such as stomatitis, arthritis, and gastritis.

How to select Eggplants:

Choose eggplants that are heavy for their size and without cracks or discolorations.
Ripe eggplant will be soft enough to allow you to make a thumbprint in the skin when you apply some pressure, but the thumbprint will disappear when the pressure is relieved. If eggplant is over-mature the skin turns dull and brown, and pressure from your thumb leaves a permanent mark.
The flesh of over-mature fruit is spongy and seeds have a bitter flavor.

How to store Eggplants:

Store eggplants in the refrigerator crisper drawer. Use within 5-7 days.
Storage and cooking temperatures can have significant effects on the levels of antioxidants in food.
The antioxidant content of eggplant fruit increased during the first three days of storage at 0 °C and then declined.

Cooking ideas:

Eggplant fruit is usually baked, grilled, sautéed, stuffed, cut into strips or cubes and fried.  It can be baked, stewed, fried, or added to soups, curries, etc. Young eggplant have edible peels but older plants should be peeled before eating.

Note that some cooking methods increase the antioxidant capacity of eggplants. The antioxidant activity of eggplant decreased in response to 16 grillings below 65 °C but increased after grilling at higher temperatures up to 95°C. However, frying caused 50% losses in antioxidant activity.

The recipe of the week comes via

Eggplant & Walnut Dip with Toasted Pita Triangles

1 large eggplant

½ cup chopped walnuts

1½ tablespoons chopped fresh mint

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 large clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon olive oil

Salt and pepper, to taste

4 pita breads (preferably whole grain)

4 tablespoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Pierce eggplant with tines of a fork and wrap tightly in foil.  Place eggplant on baking sheet and roast at 425°F for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until soft. Cool slightly.
Halve eggplant lengthwise and scoop out pulp into a blender or food processor; puree and set aside. In dry skillet over medium-high heat, cook walnuts until lightly toasted, about 1 to 2 minutes; stir into eggplant pulp. Add mint, lemon juice, garlic, oil and salt, and pepper. Cover and chill slightly.
Cut each pita into 6 wedges. Place on baking sheet, sprinkle with cheese and broil until pitas are lightly toasted and cheese melts.
Serve pitas with dip and enjoy!


Karen Alexander, MS, RDN, LD/N

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