Smart Fuel: Eggplant

Ever had the debate about whether a tomato is a fruit or a vegetable? Well, perhaps next time you could back up your argument for tomatoes being a fruit by noting that the eggplant, which is widely perceived to be a vegetable, is actually a fruit, and a berry at that!

Counting tomato, sweet peppers and potatoes among its relatives, this member of the nightshade family was once feared in some European cultures. According to reports, early versions of the eggplant were so bitter that people believed that they must also have a bitter disposition, earning the poor eggplant (or aubergine as it is called in France and much of Europe) a reputation as a cause of insanity, leprosy and cancer.

But today the eggplant is less bitter and we know now that it’s actually pretty darn good for you! Specifically, eggplant is seen as an excellent source of fiber and a good source of potassium – which is important for keeping the body hydrated and also plays a role in regulating blood pressure. However, eggplants are perhaps best known for their high levels of chlorogenic acid, a potent antioxidant that is thought to offer protective benefits against cancer and an assortment of viruses.

A second important chemical compound, meanwhile, is nasunin, a potent antioxidant found in the skin of the eggplant that is thought to protect cell membranes from damage, with one animal study suggesting that its free radical fighting properties are particularly important for the health of brain tissue. In addition, nasunin also serves as an iron chelator to prevent iron accumulation in the body, which if unregulated, can spur free radical production. In regulating this accumulation, nasunin also protects blood cholesterol from peroxidation, prevents against cellular damage that can lead to cancer and heart disease, and reduces the accumulation of iron in the joints, which is thought to be a primary cause of rheumatoid arthritis.

But before you sign up for extra eggplant, you should know that this vegetable does have a dark side! Specifically, eggplants (and several other members of the nightshade family of plants) contain a substance called solanine that, if not destroyed in the intestine, could prove toxic. In fact, one horticulturist hypothesized that osteoarthritis sufferers might be unable to break down solanine in the gut and suggested that eliminating the substance from the diet might relieve arthritis symptoms. While researchers have never put this diet to the test, solanine-free diets are sometimes prescribed by physicians for arthritis sufferers.

When selecting an eggplant, opt for those that are firm and heavy for their size. Their skin – which can range in color from a deep dark purple to a near translucent white or even come covered in tiger-like stripes – should be smooth and shiny with no visible dents, discoloration or other visible flaws. To test for freshness, gently press your thumb on its skin: A ripe eggplant will spring back. To store, place uncut and unwashed in a plastic bag in the refrigerator’s crisper draw and plan to use within about five days.

Thai Food Blog Flickr Photo (CC)

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21 thoughts on “Smart Fuel: Eggplant”

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  1. Ah, eggplant! Fruit of the gods (especially the Japanese variety!) Mmmm-mm!

  2. I’m attempting to grow eggplant in my garden. I don’t really know what to do with it, except ratatouillie, and I figure I need to learn to make baba ghanoush.

  3. If you can grow tomatoes, you can grow eggplant. Same requirements, except the plants are smaller, so no cages. I have even grown eggplant in the front garden among the flowers and shrubs; it can be rather attractive most of the growing season, especially the slender purple Japanese varieties.

    I used to not like eggplant, but that was from a few bad eggplant parmigiano experiences as a kid (mushy, squishy breaded things-ugh!). A few years ago I made Eggplant Caponata (From Asparagus to Zucchini CSA veggie cookbook) and I was hooked (loving capers probably had a lot to do with it). It’s even better as leftovers.

  4. Hah! Alyssa, you seriously made me LOL with your comment about eggplant being the fruit of Japanese gods!

    I love eggplant! Funny how, as a kid, my parents would feed me eggplant parmigiana, and tell me it was chicken parmigiana. I’d be happily gobbling it up, enjoying every bite, until I found out that I was actually eating eggplant, at which point I would put down my fork and defiantly refuse to eat another bit, as I “hated the taste of eggplant.”

    Now, I love the stuff!

  5. Ah eggplant. One of my favorite treats. I buy the Chinese eggplant (or the Japanese when I can find nice ones), skip the salt, slice them thin, and brush them with olive oil and salt and pepper. Then I lay them out on a baking sheet and pop them in a 425 or so oven for about 20 minutes.

    They are marvelous on a sandwich (eggplant sandwich with green peppers and onions and tomato sauce), in a vegetarian lasagna, or just eaten as is.


  6. Isn’t the eggplant from the nightshade family? And aren’t there some caveats about these babies, including tomatoes, for some reason?

  7. I have to show my ignorance here.
    I thought this was a belated April fools joke.
    (Like the Spaghetti tree TV commercial in the 60’s).

    I hope someone’s not going to post “Fooled YAH” now.

    I shall look out for the ‘egg-plant’ in future.


  8. What is interesting about nasunin acting as an iron chelator is that it can be both good and bad. Women at certain times of the month can experience iron deficiency, which means that cutting back on nasunin might be a good idea at that time. I think it just goes to show that every person has their own special metabolism and you have to formulate diets based on the individual.

    1. What about eggplant in the tasty ME dish called “babagenoush”? It is made with tahina… a sesame seed butter with garlic + lemon. Healthy? (I hope).

  9. I’ve being doing the primal “way” for 2 days now and I’ve loved every minute – no blood sugar crashes!!! Omelettes teo days in a row seemed a bit much, so this morning I had fried brinjal. I dipped it in beaten egg and fried it in butter and olive oil. I then made a mini omelette with the left over egg. It was delicious with a little tabasco on the side.
    Thank you Mark, I once again get to eat my favourite veg/fruit just the way I like it – fried.