Eggplant also known in Europe as aubergine is a versatile and common food in many cuisines. If you have ever wondered what does eggplant taste like beyond eggplant parmesan, how to cook it and how to select eggplant, read on because you will find out everything you need to know about this amazing fruit!
What is eggplant?
Even though many people consider eggplant to be a vegetable, it’s actually seeded fruit! Along with tomatoes, bell peppers and potatoes eggplant is a member of the nightshade family that is grown for its edible fruit.
Even though it’s available year-round, eggplant's peak season is from July through October.
Eggplant originated in eastern and southern Asia and as the trade routes opened over time, it was introduced to Europe and then to the new world.
Since it was the color and shape of an egg and was much smaller in size back in the 1700s, eggplant looked like eggs, hence the name eggplant.
There are many different varieties of eggplant, and they all taste delicious. The flavor profiles differ slightly but not enough that the varieties cannot be interchanged in recipes. Here are a few of the most common types of eggplant:
Globe or American eggplants - These are the most common type of eggplant and what you are most likely to see in the supermarket. They are the biggest, and generally least expensive of all eggplant varieties.
This common eggplant has a teardrop shape, with purple outer skin, and measures in length anywhere from 6 to 10 inches. Their color is typically darker, wider in shape and has a more meaty texture than other varieties of eggplant.
Chinese eggplants - Have an elongated shape with white or light purple skin and white flesh. They are slightly sweeter in taste than globe eggplant and contain very few seeds. Their thin skin along with a few seeds makes Chinese eggplant perfect for stir-frying and sauteing.
Japanese eggplants - This variety is similar to Chinese eggplant. It is long, slender, and darker in color with delicate skin and a mild, sweet flavor.Japanese eggplants can be used in stir-fries or in traditional dishes like eggplant parmesan. They cook quickly and are also excellent for grilling, and broiling.
Graffiti eggplants - These are small and shaped like a teardrop. Their skin is shiny, thin, and striped with violet and off-white.
The flesh is creamy, the seeds are small and when they are cooked they are slightly fruity tasting. Graffiti eggplant can be interchanged with any variety of eggplant. They taste great sauteed, grilled, or broiled.
Italian eggplant - This is very similar to globe eggplant, but is smaller in size and more rounded in shape. Italian eggplants have deep purple color skin are meaty and mild-tasting. Italian eggplant can be baked, grilled, sauteed, or breaded as in eggplant parmesan.
White eggplant - Has white skin and is slightly smaller than purple eggplant. It is less bitter, but denser, and creamier than purple eggplant. When cooked, white eggplant has a warm and mellow flavor with a hint of sweetness. The white eggplant's skin is slightly tougher so you may want to peel a white eggplant before eating it.
Is eggplant healthy?
Eggplant has many health benefits. It has high fiber content, it is low in calories and is filled with, vitamins and minerals. You can read more about the health benefits of eggplant on Healthline.
What does eggplant taste like?
Eggplant has a spongy texture when it's not cooked. Once it's cooked this versatile vegetable becomes tender and almost creamy.
Raw eggplant is bitter when uncooked and when it is cooked, it has a fairly mild taste that you could describe as an almost bland flavor; similar to zucchini squash.
Larger-sized eggplants may have a slightly bitter flavor that comes from the seeds. The bitterness can be toned down by sprinkling the eggplant with a little bit of sea salt on it before preparing it, or you can cut out the bitter seeds before cooking.
One of the great things about eggplant is the spongy texture of the eggplant's flesh allows it to absorb the flavorful ingredients that are cooked with it. That is why most eggplant dishes are made with sauces and spices.
How to prepare and cook eggplant
There are many different ways eggplant can be cooked, and it is easy to prepare for cooking. Simply rinse the eggplant off, cut off both ends, and slice it or dice it.
There is no need to peel the eggplant since the eggplant's skin is edible, with the exception of a large eggplant, which may have tough skin. And the skin holds most of the essential nutrients.
Common ways to cook eggplant are to stir fry, deep fry, bake, roast, grill or saute eggplant. See the recipes at the end for inspiration.
Plainly cooked eggplant is also a great addition to pizza, soups, or vegetable-based stews. And of course, everyone's favorite way to enjoy eggplant is eggplant parmesan.
You can also roast a whole eggplant similar to the way that you would a potato. Pierce the eggplant skin with a fork, brush it with a little bit of olive oil, and roast for 30 to 40 minutes. Once it’s cooked scoop out the flesh to use in dips such as baba ghanoush or in soups.
How and where to buy eggplant
As with most produce, eggplant is seasonal, but it can be found in your local grocery store year-round and at your local farmer's market when in season.
When selecting any variety of eggplant, choose a mature eggplant that feels firm and heavy for its size.
A ripe eggplant should have skin that is shiny and blemish-free. Avoid eggplants that have bruises or discolored skin which could be indicators of an old eggplant.
How to store eggplant
Store fresh eggplant in the refrigerator in a plastic bag for up to a week. If you cut it before refrigerating the eggplant, it will only last for a few days. If the eggplant has been cooked, it will last in the refrigerator for three to four days.
If you don't like eggplant or don't have any on hand to cook with, you can substitute it in your favorite eggplant recipe with larger-sized zucchini squash, summer squash, or portobello mushrooms.
Eggplant fun facts
- At one point in time, eggplant was believed to be a poisonous fruit, because it belongs to the nightshade family which contains some poisonous plants, but eggplant is not one of them.
- Male eggplants tend to have fewer seeds, and are less bitter than female eggplants. To tell the difference, look at the indentation at the bottom. If it’s deep and shaped like a dash, it's a female. If it's shallow and round, it's a male.
Foods that go well with eggplant
Eggplant is so mild tasting, and it can work with so many different flavors, from mild to strong testing herbs and spices. Here are some of the flavors that go well with eggplant.
- Bell peppers, chili peppers
- Herbs and spices such as allspice, basil, chili powder, chives, cilantro, cumin, curry, garlic, ginger, mint, parsley, rosemary, sage, salt, savory
- Onions, scallions, garlic
- Soy sauce
Eggplant flavor combinations to try
Get creative and try cooking by combining these ingredients together using any method with these flavor combinations.
Eggplant + basil, +bell peppers + garlic + tomatoes
Eggplant +basil + mozzarella cheese + tomatoes
Eggplant + basil + olive oil + balsamic vinegar
Eggplant + garlic + lemon juice + olive oil + parsley+ tahini
Eggplant + garlic + onions + fresh herbs
Eggplant + lentils + yogurt
Yes, you can eat raw eggplant, however, the texture and taste of eggplant that hasn't been cooked is not as palatable as cooked eggplant. Raw eggplant has a bitter taste, and a spongy texture, unlike the soft almost creamy texture of cooked eggplant.
Eggplant recipes to try
Eggplant Meatballs - a vegetarian version of meatballs that taste great with pasta.
Eggplant Parmesan Casserole - a lazy way to prepare eggplant parmesan that tastes just as delicious!
Air Fryer Eggplant - A healthier way to enjoy fried eggplant.
Baigan Choka (Roasted Eggplant) - Eggplant infused with garlic, then roasted and mashed.
Slow Cooker Eggplant Baked Ziti - Two favorites, in one recipe and made in a slow cooker!
Eggplant and Chickpea Fritters - Great for a side dish or vegetarian entree.
Grilled Eggplant with Garlic and Parmesan - Slices of eggplant are grilled and topped with crispy crumbs.
Baba Ghanoush - Roasted eggplant dip with simple ingredients.