When in the produce section of your grocery store, you may see a bin full of beautiful deep purple eggplants. The thought of eggplant parmesan or grilled eggplant makes your mouth water. You want to purchase one, but how do you know if they are ripe or overripe?
Do not pick one that is too large, medium is the best size. Make sure that it is a dark purple color all over, doesn’t have any brown spots or blemishes in the skin and the skin should be smooth. It should feel heavy in your hand. The skin should spring back when you press gently and remove your finger, it should not feel mushy to the touch nor should an indentation remain where you pressed. It is best to choose one with an end cap and try to select one that is as green as possible. But what if you aren’t purchasing the eggplant from the grocery store?
If you are lucky enough to grow eggplant in your garden you want to make sure that you pick it when it is at the perfect stage of ripeness. Do not let the fruit grow too large for the variety of eggplant that you have grown. The rule of thumb for a home grown eggplant is that it should be firm, glossy and a dark purple color all over. When you cut the fruit from the plant, leave the stem above the end cap about two inches long.
Now that you have selected a perfectly ripe fruit, how should you store it if you are not going to prepare it immediately? Do not wash or cut your eggplant until you are ready to cook it. Put it in a plastic bag and store it in the lower shelf of your refrigerator. If it has shrink wrap on it, remove the shrink wrap. Be careful not to bruise or damage the skin of your eggplant since this will accelerate degradation of the fruit. Use your eggplant within three days if possible.
Now let’s learn a little more about this fruit. The eggplant is an odd-looking, very dark purple fruit but it can also be lighter in color, almost a pink or white. Sometimes they are a plump teardrop shape or sometimes elongated like a cucumber. It is a member of the nightshade family of fruits along with bell peppers, tomatoes and potatoes. The alkaloids in eggplants may affect nerve-muscle function, digestive function and possibly joint function in people who are sensitive to alkaloid substances. However to those not sensitive to alkaloids, eggplants are delicious and could even be beneficial to one’s health. So where did this odd fruit come from?
Many people associate the eggplant with the country of Italy since it is used in many wonderful Italian recipes. Although Italy is among the countries that do currently grow and harvest eggplants, the eggplant did not originate there. In ancient India the ancestor of the eggplant grew wild but it was the Chinese that first cultivated it in the 5th century B.C. and eventually spread to Europe. Because the original varieties were bitter, eggplants were used mainly as a decorative plant in gardens until less bitter varieties were developed in the 18th century when they became more than just a showy plant in the garden.
Now that we know the eggplant a little better and can choose a perfectly ripe one, we need to get out our favorite eggplant recipe and start cooking. Bon Appétit!