What’s an Eggplant?

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Eggplant, also known as aubergine, is a fruit native to Asia and a staple in many cuisines. It is related to potatoes and tomatoes and comes in various shapes and colors. It must be cooked before eating, and its bitterness can be reduced by salting. Eggplant absorbs flavor well and can be pureed for those who dislike its texture. It is grown as a perennial in warm climates and as an annual in cooler regions.

An eggplant is a solanaceous fruit native to Asia. Many Americans know the fruit better as an eggplant, while some regions of India refer to it as an eggplant. There are a number of other regional names for the eggplant, which plays a part in the cuisines of many nations. Eggplants can be baked, stewed, roasted, grilled, or fried with a variety of coatings and sauces. Some examples of dishes containing eggplant include eggplant parmesan, baba ghanouj, and baingan bartha.

The formal botanical name for eggplant is Solanum melongena. The plant is related to other nightshade plants including potatoes and tomatoes, all members of the nightshade family. Like its relatives, the eggplant has small five-petalled flowers and lobed leaves. Eggplant flowers range in color from white to pale purple, depending on the cultivar. The common name of “eggplant” comes from the resemblance that some of the fruits have to eggs. “Aubergine” comes from a Persian word, badenjan.

Globally, several varieties of eggplant are grown, ranging from the long finger like Japanese eggplant to the plump globular fruit. The color can vary from white to deep purple and the shape transforms from almost spherical to oblong fruits. In all cases, eggplant must be cooked before it can be eaten, and larger, older fruits tend to turn bitter. To reduce the bitterness of the eggplant before cooking, it can be salted, weighed and rinsed.

Some consumers are troubled by the texture of eggplants. Eggplant is often blended to use as a base and carrier of textural aromas, as it absorbs flavor very well. Pureed eggplant dishes may be a better choice for people who don’t like the texture of whole eggplants, so that the flavor of the fruit and the dish can be enjoyed. However, whole slices of roasted or grilled eggplant are also excellent, for those who appreciate intriguing texture.

Technically, eggplants are fruits, not vegetables. They prefer warm climates and will grow perennials in USDA zones nine through 11. They can also be grown as annuals in zones seven and eight. As a general rule, aubergines are grown from seedlings, which are germinated in a greenhouse and planted after the last risk of frost. About three feet (one meter) should be left between plants, as they can start to spread out as they grow. Water lightly each week and mulch to help the plants retain moisture, and pinch off the flowers in late summer and early fall so the plant can devote its energy to developing the young fruit that is already beginning to grow .

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