Eggplant belongs to the nightshade family along with potato and tomato plants
Eggplant belongs to the nightshade family along with potato and tomato plants
USDA Hardiness Zones 4-10 Click here to view USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map.
The eggplant goes by many different names depending on where it's grown: aubergine, garden egg, melongene, guinea squash, and brinjal (in South and Southeast Asia and South Africa). It is a delicate, short-lived perennial from the nightshade family typically grown as an annual. Botanically, eggplant is related to potato and tomato plants in the Solanum genus.
Eggplants are tropical and subtropical requiring relatively high temperatures for growth. They grow best in areas with long, warm summers. In regions with shorter summers, varieties of eggplant that mature more quickly produce small and medium fruits and can be grown in containers. Eggplants require full sun for optimal growth and prefer sandy, well-draining soil. They grow up to four feet tall with bloom time in mid-to-late summer.
Growing habit, maturation time, color and size vary by variety. Colors range from deep purple to white, with some varieties even producing green or orange fruit. The most common varieties found in North America are oval or oblong. Japanese eggplant produce longer, more slender fruits and mature more quickly.
Eggplant is grown from seed or propagated by cuttings.
Eggplants are harvested 16 to 24 weeks after sowing (depending on variety). It is important not to harvest an eggplant when it is under-ripe or overripe, when it may be bitter tasting.
Eggplants are ready to harvest when the fruit has stopped growing larger, and the skin is shiny and unwrinkled. When sliced open, a ripe eggplant has soft, well-formed immature seeds. An eggplant with no seeds is under-ripe, and eggplant with dark, hard seeds is overripe.
Temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit damage the texture and flavor of eggplants. For this reason, it’s best not to store them in the refrigerator!
After harvesting, eggplants should be kept in a cool spot, away from direct sunlight in a ventilated bowl. For optimal freshness, use as soon as possible after harvesting. In cool conditions that do not get below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, they can be stored for up to two weeks.
Eggplants can be stored for up to 3 days in the refrigerator and should be used immediately after refrigerating.
The most diversity among varieties of eggplant is found in southeast Asia, where botanists believe it originated.
A small, spiny, bitter plant that came to be known as an eggplant is believed to have originally grown in India, but the eggplant we know today began its history when primitive man experimented with cultivation methods to grow sweeter, larger fruits in areas throughout Southeast Asia including India, Burma, China, and Thailand.
The earliest written accounts of eggplant cultivation date back to a 5th century record on agricultural history in China. Botanical records in China from the 7th to the 19th centuries CE note the botanical changes in eggplant as the Chinese continued to develop varieties that were sweeter and to alter its shape and size.
There is no mention of eggplants in ancient Greek or Roman records. It is believed they moved west, across the Middle East and Africa, starting in the 6th century CE via Arabic traders. When the eggplant was first introduced in Europe, it was called the “mad apple” or “bad egg," thought to cause insanity and grown only for ornamental purposes. In France, it was rumored to cause fever and epilepsy. It was not until the 17th century, during the French Enlightenment, that views on eggplant changed and grilled eggplant became a royal delicacy.
The Spanish and Portuguese introduced the eggplant to North America beginning in the 15th century. Later, in the 18th century, experimental botanist, Thomas Jefferson, introduced it to the United States. However, it would continue to be grown mainly as a table ornament until the early 20th century. Chinese immigrants arriving in the United States in the 1800s were the first to use eggplant as an edible food in the United States.
China, India, Iran, Egypt and Turkey are the world’s top eggplant-producing countries (FAOSTAT, 2012).
There are many varieties of eggplant ranging in color, shape, and size.
Classic purple varieties of eggplant commonly found in the United States are Black Bell, Black Magic, and Black Beauty.
Smaller purple or mottled varieties include Italian and Sicilian varieties.
White varieties include White Beauty, Casper, Easter Egg and Albino.
In Asia, there are small, round Indian eggplants, and long and slender Chinese and Japanese eggplants, such as the Ichiban. The Pingtung Long eggplant is native to Taiwan. The Thai Eggplant is small, round, green and bitter.
Eggplant has a wide array of culinary uses and is commonly used in Italian and Asian cuisine.
It appears in salads, pasta and main dishes. In the United States, it’s popular stuffed, grilled or roasted.
Eggplants are filled with phenolic compounds to help the plant fight against fungal and bacterial infection, as well as oxidative stress from exposure to the elements. The same phenolic compounds that protect the fruit can also protect the cells of our bodies in the form of antioxidants.
Chlorogenic is the most prevalent phenolic compound found in eggplant, and also one of the most powerful free radical scavengers found in plant tissues. It contains antimicrobial, antiviral, and even anti-cancer benefits. Phenolic acid is responsible for the browning that occurs to an eggplant’s flesh when it is cut, as well as its bitterness.
Black Magic eggplants, one of the most common varieties found in U.S. markets, have some of the highest antioxidant levels of all researched varieties.
The phytonutrient nasunin, found in the skin of eggplants, is also a powerful free radical scavenger that protects cell membranes, which are composed entirely of lipids, from damage. It is particularly effective in protecting cell membranes in the brain.
Nasunin also helps regulate the production of iron in the body. Excess iron can increase free radical production and raise the risk of heart disease and cancer. Although women who menstruate are unlikely to be at risk, men and postmenopausal women who do not lose iron monthly may be at risk. It also helps to reduce free radical damage in the joints, which is a primary cause of rheumatoid arthritis.
Phytonutrients in eggplant help to promote better blood circulation. In laboratory animal tests, eggplants have been shown to reduce cholesterol and help blood vessels relax, lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease and heart attack.
Eggplants have good levels of fiber, low levels of soluble carbohydrates and are low in calories. They can be useful in diabetes management.
Because of the high fiber content and cancer-preventative phytonutrients and phenolic acids, regular consumption of healthfully prepared eggplant may help reduce the risk of colon cancer.
Eggplants like a sunny location with rich well-draining soil prepared with nutrient-rich compost.
In areas with long, warm summers, raised beds are an optimal option for outdoor planting.
In regions with shorter summers, small-to-medium eggplant varieties with a shorter maturation times are best grown as container plants.
- Start seeds indoors, using a heated seed starting mat, two months before the soil begins to warm up to spring temperatures (6 to 8 weeks before the last frost date). Optimal soil temperature for eggplant seed germination is 80 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep soil warm and moist.
- One week before transplanting, harden plants by reducing temperature and watering.
-When average soil temperatures reach 65 degrees Fahrenheit, prepare an outdoor bed with organic compost. Eggplants are heavy feeders, but for better fruit growth, avoid high-nitrogen fertilizers, which can stimulate bushy foliage growth at the expense of the fruit. Raised beds and black plastic mulch are a good option to warm the soil and speed early-season growth.
-Plant transplants 18 to 24 inches apart in rows spaced 30 to 36 inches apart. For a more productive plant, pinch off terminal growing points.
-Water well and apply a balanced fertilizer every two weeks. Use a low-nitrogen fertilizer (if purchasing fertilizer from a garden center, look for the number sets on each band and choose a fertilizer with a low first number. This number represents the percentage of nitrogen in comparison to phosphorus and potassium. For instance, a 5-10-5 fertilizer is 5% nitrogen, 10% phosphorus and 5% potassium.
-Stake plants over 24 inches tall. For bigger fruits, restrict to 5 to 6 per plant.
-At the end of growing season, pinch off blossoms 2 to 4 weeks before the first frost. This way, plants will channel energy into ripening existing fruit instead of growing new fruit.