Do you call it an eggplant or aubergine? Is it a fruit or a vegetable? How do you eat it? So many questions! Here are the answers.
Oh how I love eggplant. That’s right, I said it…eggplant. In America, Australia, New Zealand and parts of Canada, we call it eggplant. The same delicious fruit is known as aubergine in the UK, Quebec and Ireland. It is in fact the same thing however, and a fruit no less.
Eggplant is a fruit...and a berry!
Now your world is all turned upside down. You see eggplants in the produce section with the other vegetables, not with the fruit. It must be a veggie! It isn’t. You might be surprised to know that many of the vegetables we love are actually fruits.
How is eggplant a fruit?
In order to explain what a fruit is, let’s start with vegetables. A vegetable is any part of a plant that we eat. This includes the roots (think carrots), stems (celery) and leaves (spinach). A fruit is what grows on the plant that will transport its seeds. A fruit is the reproductive part of the plant that comes from a flowering plant. See this beautiful purple flower? It will produce (hopefully) a delicious Indian eggplant.
How is the eggplant a berry?
Eggplants are berries because they come from one flower with a single ovary. They are fleshy fruits that do not have a pit in the middle. Other fruits you might not know are berries are bananas and avocados. On the other side of the coin, two fruits you probably consider berries, strawberries and raspberries, are not classified as fruits. Botany, or the study of plants, can be confusing. Call an eggplant what you want, just make sure to grow it and more importantly, eat it.
How do you grow eggplants?
Eggplants come in an array of shapes, sizes and colors. We grow the traditional Black Beauty eggplants, the big deep purple globes you see at grocery stores, as well as Indian eggplants (dwarf eggplants). While you might be used to seeing purple eggplants, they can be green, white, and even striped.
Eggplants are heat loving plants. Start them indoors six to eight weeks before the last frost or buy transplants at your local nursery after your last frost. We purchased our Black Beauties at a garden center but by luck discovered the Indian eggplant at a farmer’s market. Next spring we’ll start Graffiti eggplants indoors. Those are the beautiful purple and white striped eggplants.
This year, I decided to plant the Black Beauties directly in the soil in the vegetable garden but I’m growing the Indian eggplant in a pot. They are both doing great. How did mine turn out so well, and how can you grow eggplant too? Start with the proper soil. Eggplants love warm soil that drains easily and is enriched with compost. Space the plants two to three feet apart (0.60 to 1 meter). Keep the soil moist and use continuously releasing fertilizer.
When do you harvest eggplants?
When the eggplants have stopped growing and the exterior is firm and shiny, they are ready to harvest. Use shears to cut them from the plant about one inch (2.5 cm) from the base of the stem.
How do you eat eggplants?
The entire eggplant is edible, except for the stem. Simply cut the top off and discard it. You don’t need to peel the eggplant, simply slice it up and pan fry, sautee, bake or grill. Eggplant isn’t eaten raw. It is usually cooked. Some people, like myself, choose to salt both sides of sliced eggplant and let them sit for a short time to draw out moisture. Others choose to cook them right away. Salting the eggplant does two things: eggplants are spongy so salting them reduces the amount of oil they will soak up and when the moisture is pulled from the fruit, the cell walls collapse changing the texture. Our favorite ways to eat eggplant include making eggplant parmesan, adding it to stir fry and battering and frying them. The larger varieties, such as Black Beauties, are perfect for stuffing as well, whereas the tiny Indian eggplants are better for stir fries.