By: Becci Blascak and Jane Hemmelgarn

What most people do not realize is that eggplants are a naturally a sweet vegetable. Once they are picked, the sugar turns to starch and helps preserve the eggplant long after it leaves the shrub. Because of this, home grown eggplants will taste so much sweeter than the eggplants you buy at the super market; you'll hardly realise it's the same vegetable!

Background: There is very little in common between eggplants and eggs, but did you know that eggplants were named such because the first plants reminded the growers of goose eggs? Also known as aubergine in some regions, the oddly shaped, purple vegetable was first cultivated in India thousands of years ago where it was used in a wide variety of dishes, raw or cooked. As the popularity of the eggplant spread and new cultures adopted the vegetable, new variations of the eggplant advanced. Today, eggplants can vary in color from a bright white to deep purple and are produced in many sizes and shapes. Eggplant is a member of the Nightshade family, which also includes tomatoes, potatoes, and peppers.

Like many other food, eggplant is a great source for dietary fibre. It also contains almost no fat or cholesterol, making it a good choice for weight loss. Additionally, eggplant is known to increase cognitive functions, improve cardiovascular health, and help reduce stress.

Faiths and Cultures: As the original cultivators of eggplants, the Indian people continue to utilise the vegetable in their traditional meals. Although they refer to it as brinjal, eggplants are typically prepared as main courses in Indian cuisine, whereas other cultures will feature eggplant in dips, salads, stews, etc.

Even though eggplant originated in India, it is believed that the Arabic culture first brought the vegetable to the Mediterranean and beyond. Eggplant is used in a significant number of Arabic recipes, including recipes dating back to medieval times. In some regions, the Arabic culture even have a saying that a girl should know 100 ways to cook an eggplant.

Growing season: Eggplant grows best in tropical and subtropical climates, requiring somewhat high temperatures. They plant best in the Spring and Summer but can sometimes be planted in the Autumn in tropical areas.

How to plant: They are best planted at soil temperatures between 24°C and 32°C. Eggplants grow readily from seed planted in pots. The seeds are ready to be planted out when 10 cm tall, spaced 50 cm apart. You can start to harvest anywhere from 10-15 weeks after planted and eggplant will continue fruiting while the weather is warm. You will know the eggplant is ready when the vegetable's skin is shiny and feels firm. You can then cut the eggplant with a sharp knife close to the stem.

Eggplants can grow in the same bed as beans, capsicum, lettuce, amaranth, and thyme, but try to avoid growing in the same bed as potatoes. As both are members of the nightshade family and having similar properties, potatoes and eggplant are vulnerable to the same bacterial and fungal diseases. They also have common pests, making them difficult to grow together.

This article is based on information from the following sources: