Eggplant is More Than Parmigiana; Learn More About This Healthy Vegetable
Eggplant is not the most commonly eaten vegetable in the United States and is more known for Parmigiana recipe, in part due to its unique taste. But with its many nutritional benefits, you should try one today!
Eggplants - also known as aubergine in France – is a vegetable that is well known for its beautiful purple color, but sometimes avoided due to its bitter taste and spongy texture. Eggplant is named so due to its shape – sort of a pear-shaped egg. It grows from vines that are several feet in height.
Today’s eggplant tastes better than at some time in its history. Eggplant was first discovered as growing wild in India but then cultivated in China in the 5th century BC. However, for many, it was used more as a decoration than food because it was very bitter. It also had an undeserved reputation for causing insanity, leprosy, and cancer.
New varieties were developed in the 18th century and the new eggplant has a less bitter taste – and a better reputation!
Nutritional Benefits of Eggplants
Eggplant is rich in many nutrients, including fiber, copper, vitamin B1, manganese, vitamin B6, niacin, vitamin K, potassium and folate.
In addition to these many vitamins and minerals, eggplant also contains important phytonutrients, such caffeic and chlorogenic acid, and flavonoids, such as nasunin.
Nasunin is a potent antioxidant that can protect cell membranes from damage. It is especially protective in brain cell membranes – making eggplant a wonderful brain food. Nasunin is also an iron chelator. While we all need iron as an essential nutrient, too much is not a good thing as it can increase free radical production and is associated with an increased risk of heart disease and cancer.
Chlorogenic acid is another potent free radical scavenger that may be antimutagenic (anti-cancer), as well as antimicrobial and antiviral (protects from bacteria and virus).
Eggplant nutrients may also be good for your cholesterol levels. When laboratory animals in a study were given eggplant juice, their cholesterol significantly reduced. Chlorogenic acid is especially helpful for lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol.
Nightshades – Should You Avoid Eggplant?
Eggplants belong to the nightshade family of vegetables, which also includes tomatoes, bell peppers and potatoes. Because some other members of the nightshade family (especially belladonna) are poisonous, some think that all members of the nightshade family should be avoided. Also see, how Fibromyalgia pain is triggered by nightshade vegetables.
But this is not true – the edible nightshades are nutritious additions to the diet for most healthy people.
If you have arthritis and joint pain, especially the autoimmune disease rheumatoid arthritis, you may have been given advise to avoid nightshades. One theory has to do with Vitamin D in that nightshades interfere with Vitamin D metabolism, which is crucial to bone formation – but this has only been found in animal studies, not in humans. There is no good evidence to suggest that these vegetables contribute to inflammation or pain. In fact, the vitamins in nightshades may help bone health, not harm it.
How to Choose and Cook Eggplants
Eggplant is available year-round, but are at their best from August through October. And you may not know this, but eggplants are not only found in the shade of purple! There are many varieties including lavender, jade green, orange and yellow-white. Take a look, for example, at this Armenian Stuffed Eggplant Recipe or this Couscous Stuffed Eggplants Recipe.
One particularly potent eggplant is known as “Black Magic.” This variety is found to have nearly three times the amount of antioxidants than typical eggplant varieties found in the supermarket.
Choose eggplants that are firm and heavy for their size. Their skin should be smooth and shiny, and their color should be vivid. They should be free of discoloration, scars, and bruises, which usually indicate that the flesh beneath has become damaged and possibly decayed.
The stem and cap, on either end of the eggplant, should be bright green in color. As you would with other fruits and vegetables, avoid purchasing eggplant that has been waxed. To test for the ripeness of an eggplant, gently press the skin with the pad of your thumb. If it springs back, the eggplant is ripe, while if an indentation remains, it is not.
Although they look hardy, eggplants are actually very perishable and care should be taken in their storage. Eggplants are sensitive to both heat and cold and should ideally be stored at around 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius). Do not cut eggplant before you store it as it perishes quickly once its skin has been punctured or its inner flesh exposed.
Place uncut and unwashed eggplant in a plastic bag and store in the refrigerator crisper where it will keep for a few days.
If you purchase eggplant that is wrapped in plastic film, remove it as soon as possible since it will inhibit the eggplant from breathing and degrade its freshness.
Most eggplants can be eaten either with or without their skin. However, the larger ones and those that are white in color generally have tough skins that may not be palatable. To remove skin, you can peel it before cutting or if you are baking it, you can scoop out the flesh once it is cooked, either by baking, roasting or steaming. Remember if cooking an eggplant whole, to pierce it several times with a fork for steam to escape.
5 Quick Eggplant Cooking and Serving Ideas
- For homemade babaganoush, purée roasted eggplant, garlic, tahini, lemon juice and olive oil.
- Use it as a dip for vegetables or as a sandwich filling.
- Mix cubed baked eggplant with grilled peppers, lentils, onions and garlic and top with balsamic vinaigrette.
- Stuff miniature Japanese eggplants with a mixture of feta cheese, pine nuts and roasted peppers.
- Add eggplant to your next Indian curry stir-fry.