Have you ever eaten a guinea squash? How about a brinjal or a melongene? Perhaps you've tried an aubergine? No? None of these things? Well, maybe you have and just didn't know it. These are all names for a food you might know as the eggplant!
If you've ever eaten eggplant, you would probably guess it's a vegetable based upon its flavor and texture. However, an eggplant is actually the fruit of a plant of the same name. Scientists call this plant Solanum melongena.
As a member of the Solanaceae family, the eggplant is a type of plant known as a nightshade. It's thus closely related to tomatoes and potatoes. Eggplants grow wild, but they're also cultivated as an annual crop in areas with a temperate climate.
Eggplant is known for its fleshy, meaty texture. Although it is cooked in many dishes like a vegetable, it's technically considered a berry. If you look closely at the inside of an eggplant, you'll notice it has many tiny, soft seeds. The seeds are edible, but they tend to have a bitter taste.
There are several varieties of eggplant fruits. Most tend to be long and oval shaped, a bit like a gourd or squash. Colors vary, too, although the most common color is a dark purple. There is actually a color — aubergine — that resembles the purple of the eggplant.
A long, gourd-shaped, purple fruit is what most people think of when they hear the word “eggplant." How in the world did something long and purple come to be called an eggplant? Apparently, way back in the 1700s, early European versions of eggplant were smaller and yellow or white. They looked a bit like goose or hen's eggs, which led to the name “eggplant."
The eggplant has been around for a long, long time. It's native to India and Southeast Asia. In fact, the first known written mention of eggplant comes from a Chinese book on agriculture written in 544.
Raw eggplant has a bitter taste, somewhat like its seeds. When it's cooked, though, it becomes tender with a rich flavor. Some recipes that feature eggplant recommend salting, rinsing and draining the sliced fruit. This can further soften the fruit and cause it to absorb less fat during the cooking process. If you don't salt and press eggplant prior to cooking, it will tend to soak up a lot of fat and become greasy.
Today, eggplant is a popular part of many different cultures. You will find eggplant recipes in the cuisines of France, Egypt, Italy, Turkey, Greece, India, Pakistan, Iran, China, and all throughout the Middle East and Asia. In fact, 90% of eggplant production comes from five of these countries: China, India, Egypt, Iran, and Turkey.