Week 32: Eggplant
Eggplant, or aubergine as it is called in France, is a vegetable long prized for its beauty as well as its unique taste and texture. Eggplants belong to the plant family of nightshades, and are kin to the tomato, bell pepper and potato. They grow similarly to tomatoes, hanging from the vines of a plant that grows several feet in height.
One of the most popular varieties of eggplant in North America looks like a pear-shaped egg, a characteristic from which its name is derived. The skin is glossy and deep purple in color, while the flesh is cream colored and spongy in consistency. Contained within the flesh are seeds arranged in a conical pattern. While the different varieties do vary slightly in taste and texture, one can generally describe the eggplant as having a pleasantly bitter taste and spongy texture.
Nutrient Profile: Eggplant is a very good source of dietary fiber, vitamin B1, and copper. It is a good source of manganese, vitamin B6, niacin, potassium, folate, and vitamin K. Eggplant also contains phytonutrients such as nasunin and chlorogenic acid.
Brain Food: Research on eggplant has focused on the anthocyanin phytonutrient found in eggplant skin called nasunin. Nasunin is a potent antioxidant and free radical scavenger that has been shown to protect cell membranes (in particular in the brain) from damage.
Phenolic Antioxidant Compounds: The predominant phenolic compound found in all varieties of eggplant tested is chlorogenic acid, which is one of the most potent free radical scavengers found in plant tissues. Benefits attributed to chlorogenic acid include anti-cancer, antimicrobial, anti-LDL (bad cholesterol) and antiviral activities.
Cardiovascular Health and Free Radical Protection: The phytonutrient nasunin is a potent free-radical scavenger and also an iron chelator (binds iron and helps the body get rid of it). Excess iron increases free radical production and is associated with an increased risk of heart disease and cancer. By chelating iron, nasunin lessens free radical formation leading to numerous beneficial results.
Selection and Storage: Choose eggplants that are firm and heavy for their size. Their skin should be smooth and shiny, with vivid color. They should be free of discoloration, scars, and bruises, which usually indicate that the flesh beneath has become damaged and possibly decayed. 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.
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. Place uncut and unwashed eggplant in a plastic bag and store in the refrigerator crisper where it will keep for a few days.
Tips for Preparing and Cooking: Most eggplants can be eaten either with or without their skin. To tenderize the flesh's texture and reduce some of its naturally occurring bitter taste, you can sweat the eggplant by “salting it”. After cutting the eggplant into the desired size and shape, sprinkle it with salt and allow it to rest for about 30 minutes. This process will pull out some of its water content and make it less permeable to absorbing any oil used in cooking.
Individual Concerns: Oxalates: Eggplant is among a small number of foods that contain measurable amounts of oxalates (naturally-occurring substances found in plants, animals, and human beings). When oxalates become too concentrated in body fluids, they can crystallize and cause health problems. For this reason, individuals with already existing and untreated kidney or gallbladder problems may want to avoid eating eggplant. Laboratory studies have shown that oxalates may also interfere with absorption of calcium from the body.
This eggplant parmesan recipe is a family favorite! Serve with salad and garlic bread. Enjoy!