Aubergine botanically known as Solanum melongena and commonly referred to as eggplant or garden egg belongs to the nightshade family of bitter apple S. incanum. It is a tender tropical perennial crop measuring at least 16 to 57 inches tall, with broad lobed leaves, which are up to 4–8 inches long and 2–4 inches broad. It has a spiny stem with a white to purple flower, bearing five lobed corolla and yellow stamens (Khah 2011).
Aubergine has a bitter taste in its raw state but this is not the case once cooked as it tastes better and becomes softer with a rich and aromatic flavor. Many countries have different methods of preparations with easy recipes. The fleshy texture of aubergine, makes it a perfect meat substitute for vegetarian cuisines.
Aubergine contains antioxidants on its skin known as nasunin which gives it a characteristics glossy purple colour although some species can be white or striped with an oval egg shape and white fleshy texture. Once the aubergine is cut open and left to stand for few minutes, the flesh changes into brown colour. The fruit contains many tiny soft seeds that are suitable for consumption, but have bitter taste as a result of nicotinoid alkaloids.
Boubekri et., al. (2013) support that aubergine antioxidant ability, is as a result of its flavonoic and phenolic component. Due to the presence of strychnine and anthocyanins in aubergine, its extracts can be helpful in treating several diseases such as high blood pressure, cancer, and hepatosis.
Some cuisines encourage a process known as degorging whereby aubergines are firstly washed properly with salt and drained before cooking so as to greatly reduce the bitterness, soften it and reduce the quantity of fat absorbed during cooking. This process is however not the case with the species imported into the Western Europe because they do not have bitter taste.
Although salting is required to reduce the amount of oil absorbed while cooking, it is advisable not to use excess salt, which is very detrimental to human health. This fruit can be prepared boiled, roasted, whole, cut, skinned, mashed or served garnished with assorted vegetables.
It can also be cooked with stew, charred, battered or blended with lemon, garlic, ginger, tomatoes, sweet pepper and onions to prepare sauce. It can also be pickled in red peppers, vinegar, olive oil and paprika. Aubergine can also be gouged out and stuffed with fish, rice, beans, meat, vegetables or assorted sauces.
Health Benefits of Aubergine
Aubergine is a rich source of protein, magnesium, dietary fibre, potassium, low fat, vitamins B1, B6, manganese, minerals, copper and carbohydrates. Studies suggest that this fruit is capable of lowering the cholesterol level as well as maintaining a balanced body weight.
Tips For Selecting Aubergine
Ideally, aubergine skin colour should be bright, glowing and shiny. To select fresh ones, look out for a glossy shiny purple skin void of blemish, cut, dent, or defect, which shows that the fruit is no longer viable and could have possibly perished.
Aubergine can be tested for ripeness by pressing hard on the skin which usually bounces back instantaneously however, if it is not yet ripe, the dent will remain there without bouncing back.
Boubekri C., Lanez T., Djouadi A. and Rebiai A. (2013), Effect of Drying and Freezing on Antioxidant Capacity and Polyphenolic Contents of Two South Algerian Eggplants Cultivars, International Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, Vol 5, Suppl 3, p 244.
E.M. Khah 2011 Effect of Grafting on Growth, Performance and Yield of Aubergine (Solanum melongena L.) in Greenhouse and Open-Field, International Journal of Plant Production 5 (4) p360.