Eggplant or Aubergine (Solanum melongena)

Eggplant or Aubergine (Solanum melongena)
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The eggplant, aubergine or brinjal (Solanum melongena) is a plant of the family Solanaceae (also known as the nightshades) and genus Solanum. It bears a fruit of the same name, commonly used as a vegetable in cooking. As a night-shade, it is closely related to the tomato and potato and is native to southern India and Sri Lanka. It is a short-lived perennial plant often cultivated as an annual. It grows 40 to 150 cm (16 to 57 in) tall, with large coarsely lobed leaves that are 10 to 20 cm (4-8 in) long and 5 to 10 cm (2-4 in) broad. The stem is often spiny. The flowers are white to purple, with a five-lobed corolla and yellow stamens. The fruit is fleshy, less than 3 cm in diameter on wild plants, but much larger in cultivated forms. (Semi-)wild types can grow much larger, to 225 cm (7 ft) with large leaves over 30 cm (12 in) long and 15 cm (6 in) broad. The fruit contains numerous small, soft seeds which are edible.

The eggplant is an important food crop grown for its large, pendulous purple or white fruit. It has been cultivated in southern and eastern Asia since prehistory but appears to have become known to the Western world no earlier than ca. 1500 CE. The numerous Arabic and North African names for it, along with the lack of ancient Greek and Roman names, indicate that it was introduced throughout the Mediterranean area by the Arabs in the early Middle Ages. The scientific name Solanum melongena is derived from a 16th century Arabic term for one kind of eggplant.

The name eggplant developed in the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada because the fruits of some 18th century European cultivars were yellow or white and resembled goose or hen’s eggs. The name aubergine in British English developed based on the French aubergine (as derived from Catalan albergínia). In Indian and South African English, the fruit is known as a “brinjal.” Aubergine and brinjal, with their distinctive br-jn or brn-jl aspects, derive from Arabic and Sanskrit. In the caribbean Trinidad, it also goes by the latin derivative “melongen”.

Because of the eggplant’s relationship with the Solanaceae (nightshade) family, it was at one time believed to be poisonous. While it is true that eggplant can generally be eaten without ill effect by most people, for some, the eating of eggplant as well as other edible nightshade plants (tomato, potato, and capsicum/peppers) can indeed be harmful. Some eggplants can be rather bitter, which can irritate the stomach lining and cause gastritis. More importantly, nightshades, including eggplant, can cause or significantly worsen arthritis and should be avoided by those sensitive to them. [1]

The most widely grown cultivated varieties (cultivars) in Europe and North America today are elongated ovoid, 12-25 cm long (4 1/2 to 9 in) and 6-9 cm broad (2 to 4 in) with a dark purple skin. A much wider range of shapes, sizes and colors is grown in India and elsewhere in Asia. Larger varieties weighing up to a kilogram grow in the region between the Ganges and Yamuna rivers, while smaller varieties are found elsewhere. Colors vary from white to yellow or green as well as reddish-purple and dark purple. Some cultivars have a color gradient, from white at the stem to bright pink to deep purple or even black. Green or purple cultivars with white striping also exist. Chinese eggplants are commonly shaped like a narrower, slightly pendulous cucumber, and sometimes were called Japanese eggplants in North America.