Along with tomatoes, potatoes and bell peppers, the aubergine (solanum melongena) belongs to the nightshade plant family (Solanaceae). In fact, aubergines grow in a manner much like tomatoes, hanging from the vines of a plant that grows several feet in height. They have a deep purple, glossy skin encasing cream coloured, sponge-like flesh dotted with small, edible seeds.
In addition to the classic purple variety, aubergines are available in other colours including lavender, jade green, orange and yellow and in a range of shapes and sizes. The most popular variety of aubergine looks like a large, pear-shaped egg, hence the American name ‘eggplant.’
The modern aubergine owes its origin to the wild version that is native to South East Asia. Prior to the middle ages it was introduced in Africa before spreading throughout Europe and the Middle East. For centuries aubergines were enjoyed more as a decorative garden plant than as a food due to its bitter taste.
Aubergines are an excellent source of dietary fibre. They are also a good source of vitamins B1 and B6 and potassium. In addition it is high in the minerals copper, magnesium and manganese.
A 100g serving of raw aubergine provides:
- 0.9g protein
- 0.4g fat
- 2.2g carbohydrate
- 2.7g fibre
Aubergines are rich in antioxidants, specifically nasunin found in aubergine skin – which gives it its purple colour. A potent antioxidant and free radical scavenger, nasunin has been found to protect the lipids (fats) in brain cell membranes. Cell membranes are almost entirely composed of lipids and are responsible for protecting the cell and helping it to function. The lipid layer is crucial for letting nutrients in, wastes out and receiving instructions from messenger molecules that tell the cell what to do.
Research on aubergines has focused on nasunin. It is not only a potent antioxidant, protecting the fatty acids essential for healthy brain function, but it also helps move excess iron out of the body. Although iron is an essential nutrient, necessary for transporting oxygen in the blood, immune support and collagen synthesis, too much iron is not recommended.
Aubergines are high in fibre and low in fat and therefore recommended for those managing type 2 diabetes or managing weight concerns. Initial studies indicate that phenolic-enriched extracts of eggplant may help in controlling glucose absorption, beneficial for managing type 2 diabetes and reducing associated high blood pressure (hypertension).
Aubergines may also help to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. These positive effects are likely to be down to nasunin and other phytochemicals in aubergines.
How to select & store
On visual inspection, the skin colour should be vivid, shiny and free of discoloration, scars and bruises, which usually indicate that the flesh beneath has become damaged and possibly decayed. The stem and cap at the top of the aubergine should also be free of discolouration. Choose auberinges that are firm and heavy for their size. To test the ripeness of an aubergine, gently press the skin with the pad of your thumb. If it springs back, the aubergine is ripe, if an indentation remains, it is not.
Aubergines are actually quite perishable, being sensitive to both heat and cold. Store them whole in a plastic bag and store in the refrigerator, where they will keep for a few days. If you cut an aubergine before you store it, it will decay quickly. Once cooked, aubergines can be stored in the fridge for up to three days.
It was recommended that to tenderise aubergines and to reduce the bitter taste you should salt it before cooking. However, modern varieties of aubergine are much less bitter and so salting is no longer necessary, unless you’re planning to pan-fry, because aubergines soak up a lot of oil, and the salting process helps to reduce this.
Aubergines are a member of the nightshade family (Solanaceae), which includes bell peppers, tomatoes and potatoes. Research suggests a link between aggravated arthritic symptoms and the consumption of these types of foods. However, to date there have been no case-controlled studies to confirm these findings, although some individuals report that when avoiding or limiting these nightshade-family vegetables they experience some relief from their arthritic symptoms.
Aubergines contain significant amounts of oxalate. Individuals with a history of oxalate-containing kidney stones should avoid overconsuming them.
Add cubed aubergine to your next stir-fry or curry:
Aubergine & chickpea curry
Keralan vegetable curry
Try making an aubergine dip/baba ganoush
Smoky aubergine & coriander dip
Smoky aubergine dip & barbecued poppadums
Loin of lamb with baba ganoush
Baked aubergine – an Italian classic:
Italian-style stuffed aubergines
Roast aubergine parmigiana
A welcome alternative to help you reach your five-a day:
Moroccan aubergine & chickpea salad
Aubergine & goat’s cheese salad with mint-chilli dressing
Let’s not forget the Greek specialty moussaka:
The ultimate makeover: moussaka
This page was last reviewed on 5th December 2018 by Kerry Torrens.
Jo Lewin is a registered nutritionist (RNutr) with the Association for Nutrition with a specialism in public health. Follow her on Twitter @nutri_jo.
Kerry Torrens is a qualified Nutritionist (MBANT) with a post graduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food.
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