Eggplant belongs to the Solanaceae, or nightshade family, and is related to tomatoes, bell peppers, and potatoes. While it is generally thought of as a vegetable, eggplant is actually a fruit.
The large, deep purple Western Globe variety is most commonly found in the produce section of supermarkets, but there are many other varieties of eggplant in a wide range of shapes and colors. Asian or Japanese eggplants are long and narrow, and usually more tender than the larger Western variety. Small round or egg-shaped varieties come in a whole spectrum of colors including pale lavender, green, orange, white or variegated. Regardless of the color of the peel, the spongy flesh of the different varieties of eggplant is cream colored.
Eggplant Nutrition Facts
Eggplant is very low in sodium, fat and cholesterol, and contains substantial amounts of many essential nutrients. One cup of cooked eggplant has only 28 calories, and it is an excellent source of both soluble and insoluble dietary fiber, which helps to remove toxins from the body, lowers cholesterol and reduces the risk of colon cancer.
Eggplant also contains many nutrients that are invaluable to proper health:
- Potassium. Found in high amounts in eggplant; critical for heart and muscle function
- Manganese. Necessary for healthy bones, cartilage and skin
- Copper. This plays an important role in iron metabolism and enzyme activities
- Vitamins B1, B3 and B6. Needed for carbohydrate, fat and protein metabolism;
- Folate. Involved in brain function, red blood cell regulation and production of genetic material
- Magnesium. An essential mineral that is especially important for healthy bones, teeth, kidneys, muscles and heart
- Tryptophan. An essential amino acid, necessary for the body to produce proteins
Eggplant contains a number of phytonutrients that have antioxidant activity. Research has shown that nasunin, an anthocyanin, has antioxidant properties that protect the lipid component of brain cell membranes, helping to prevent free radicals from entering the cell. Nasunin also chelates iron, which can accumulate in men and post-menopausal women and lead to the production of free radicals. Chelating the iron reduces the production of free radicals and protects against damage to cells that can cause cancer, as well as protecting joints from damage that is associated with rheumatoid arthritis.
Chlorogenic acid, a phenolic acid compound present in high amounts in eggplant, is a free radical scavenger that fights cancer, lowers LDL (bad) cholesterol, and has antibiotic properties.
Studies have shown that eggplant juice reduces cholesterol levels in laboratory animals, while relaxing blood vessel walls to improve the flow of blood. These effects are attributed to the nasunin and other phytonutrients found in eggplant.
How to Choose and Prepare Eggplant
Eggplant is in season from August to October, but is available throughout the year. Choose eggplants with intensely colored skin that is smooth, unblemished, and free of cuts or bruises. The flesh of a ripe eggplant should spring back when it is pressed. To store, place in a perforated plastic bag in the refrigerator and use within one week.
To draw out excess moisture, tenderize and remove bitter flavor, slice the raw eggplant and sprinkle with salt. Let it sit and “sweat” for fifteen minutes to one hour, and then rinse off the salt before cooking. It is not necessary to peel eggplant, but the skin of larger eggplants may become tough.
Eggplant can be prepared in a multitude of ways, including grilling, baking, stir-frying or stuffing. Eggplant parmesan is a very popular and delicious dish, as are grilled eggplant sandwiches. Baba ganoush, a Middle Eastern eggplant dip, is simple to prepare by blending peeled, roasted eggplant with tahini (sesame paste), olive oil, garlic and lemon juice.
World’s Healthiest Foods: Eggplant www.whfoods.com
University of Maryland Medical Center www.umm.edu/altmed/articles