Fruits and vegetables are often taken for granted. We cook and eat them, without ever considering their history or even the etymology of their name. The eggplant is one such example, as it has rich history spanning hundreds of years. The peculiar-looking eggplant is technically a fruit, but it’s often classified as a vegetable. You may also be surprised to learn that it’s a close relative of many other common vegetables.
The humble eggplant (Solanum melongena) is a member of the Solanaceae family, which also includes the potato, tomato, and the poisonous Deadly Nightshade. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the Solanaceae family has almost 2,500 species and is widely used in the food and drug industry.
The eggplant is believed to have originated in Southern India and Sri Lanka, and later spread throughout Southern Asia. The Arab invasion of Persia in the Middle Ages, opened trade routes that allowed the introduction of the eggplant to the Mediterranean and, from there, to the rest of the Western world.
Initially, the eggplant was viewed negatively in Western Europe. It was blamed for causing insanity, leprosy and cancer. With a reputation like this, it is no surprise that the eggplant was used exclusively for decorative purposes in homes.
As centuries passed, farmers cultivated and improved the taste of eggplant. Today, eggplant is a key ingredient in staple dishes around the globe, such as the Middle Eastern baba ghanoush and the Greek moussaka.
Health Benefits of Eggplant
It is reported that the average American eats less than a pound of eggplant a year. This is a disconcerting statistic, as eggplant contains a variety of nutrients such as fiber, copper, potassium, and vitamin B6, C and K which are essential for a healthy, functioning body.
Eggplant also contains a potent antioxidant called nasunin, protecting your cells from free radical damage, which slows down aging and promotes healthy brain function. Nasunin also has iron-chelating properties, reducing your iron content if you suffer from iron overload.
Chlorogenic acid is another antioxidant found in eggplant. It is reported to have anticancer, antimicrobial, and antiviral properties. Chlorogenic acid also slows down the absorption of fat from your food, helping manage your weight.
Eggplant also possesses cancer-fighting compounds, namely BEC and BEC5. In a study published by Dr. Bill E. Cham in the International Journal of Clinical Medicine, two male subjects in their 60s suffered from skin tumors, large basal cell carcinoma (BCC) or squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). The subjects were treated twice a day with a cream containing BEC and BEC5. Here are the findings:
- The first subject’s tumor showed signs of tumor breakdown just after two weeks. After 14 weeks of treatment, the cancer was eliminated and hair had regrown on the tumor area.
- The second subject’s tumor showed positive results after six weeks of treatment, with the tumor being replaced partially by normal skin. After three more weeks, more normal tissue was visible. Finally, the tumor was completely eliminated after 14 weeks of treatment.
A word of caution — excessive consumption of eggplant can lead to iron deficiency, weakening your immune system and making you prone to fatigue. However, avoid consuming eggplant after a blood loss-related event, such as menstruation or a blood donation.
Eggplant Shopping: The Quest for the Best Eggplant
Eggplant comes in different shapes, sizes and colors. Common varieties include red and yellow, but the purple variety is probably the most well-known. When purchasing any of these varieties, Dr. Mercola recommends choosing the freshest harvest for the best quality possible.
You can also do a quick test on the eggplant skin to determine if it’s good or not. When the skin is pressed, it should quickly return to its normal state, indicating top quality. If the skin doesn’t return, it is overripe and likely to have a bitter flavor and tough seeds.
Healthy Eggplant Recipe for First-Time Eaters
If you’re a vegetarian or a vegan, eggplant is a great substitute for meat and adding flavor to soups, stews, casseroles and side dishes. For novices, Dr. Mercola recommends trying out this simple grilled eggplant recipe. It requires minimal ingredients, is easy to prepare, and tastes great.
4 eggplants, cut lengthwise into 1” thick slices
2 tsp. kosher salt
4 tbsp. extra virgin olive or coconut oil
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
- Place one paper towel on a baking sheet, then place eggplant slices on top to form a single layer. Sprinkle with salt then cover with another paper towel. Repeat as necessary until all eggplant is sprinkled with salt.
- Let the eggplant stand for 30 minutes, then rinse and blot dry. This process drains excess water, reducing bitterness and preventing excess oil absorption during grilling.
- Brush both sides of all eggplant slices with oil. Place them in a large bowl then season with pepper.
- Heat griller to medium then place eggplant for 16 to 20 minutes. Turn only once until lightly browned and tender.
This recipe is a great introduction to eggplant. The cancer-fighting properties and assorted nutrients of this food are too valuable to overlook — just keep in mind the side effects of excessive consumption.