Eggplant is a popular part of Indian, Middle Eastern, and Chinese cuisines, but in the US the average American eats less than one pound per year.1 They are, perhaps, the least popular member of the Solanaceae family, which includes tomatoes, pepper, and potatoes, as well as some poisonous plants like Deadly Nightshade.
For centuries, in fact, especially in Europe, eggplant was regarded as a bitter plant more suited for decorating the garden than eating, and many believed it was unhealthy or even poisonous. It was even blamed for causing insanity, leprosy, and cancer.2
Early on, most eggplants were yellow or white-skinned, small and resembled the shape of an egg, hence their name. Through the years, however, new varieties of eggplant emerged, including the more familiar dark-purple variety often consumed in the US today.
In the 18th century, its taste became much less bitter and this vegetable rose out of obscurity and into some of the most beloved traditional dishes around the globe – like Middle Eastern baba ghanoush, Greek moussaka, French ratatouille, and Sicilian caponata.
If you’re new to eggplant, you might be surprised to find it can be quite sweet. Some even refer to it as a fruit, which, technically, it is (like the tomato).
Did You Know?
- Eggplants contain fiber, copper, B vitamins, vitamin K, and potassium
- Eggplants are a rich source of antioxidant anthocyanins, which may help protect cell membranes in your brain
- Eggplant compounds have anti-proliferative activities against human colon and liver cancer cells
Eggplants Are Packed with Antioxidants
Eggplants contain fiber, copper, B vitamins, vitamin K, and potassium, but their brightly colored skin is a sign that they’re also rich in antioxidants. Anthocyanins are one type of phytonutrient that are responsible for that dark-purple color.
One variety, nasunin, has been found to have potent antioxidant and free-radical scavenging abilities. It’s also known to protect the fats in your brain cell membranes,3 and it has iron-chelating abilities, which is beneficial if you suffer from iron overload.
The predominant antioxidant in eggplants is chlorogenic acid, which also has anti-cancer, antimicrobial, and anti-viral properties. Chlorogenic acid is also one of the most potent free-radical scavengers found in plants. One variety of eggplant in particular, known as Black Magic, has been shown to have nearly three times the antioxidants as other varieties.4
In addition, nasunin and other phytonutrients in eggplant, including terpenes, are thought to be beneficial for heart health. Animal studies show that eggplant juice has beneficial effects on cholesterol levels and also relaxes blood vessels for improved blood flow.5
Eggplant Extract May Kill Cancer Cells
A cream containing eggplant extract, known as BEC and BEC5, appears to cure and eliminate most non-melanoma skin cancers in several weeks' time. There are reports that extracts of plants from the Solanaceae family of vegetables are effective for treating cancer dating back nearly 200 years to 1825, according to natural health pioneer Dr. Jonathan Wright.
However, it wasn't until much later, after the 1950s, that they were formally studied. The leading researcher in this area today is Dr. Bill E. Cham, who reported as early as 1991 in Cancer Letters that:6
"A cream formulation containing high concentrations (10%) of a standard mixture of solasodine glycosides (BEC) has been shown to be effective in the treatment of malignant and benign human skin tumors.”
One of Dr. Cham's more recent studies was published in the International Journal of Clinical Medicine.7 The paper includes two impressive case reports of 60-something men who were suffering from large basal cell carcinoma (BCC) or squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), which had plagued them for years. The results upon treatment with a cream formulation of BEC (eggplant extract) twice a day are astounding:
- In the first case, treatment with the eggplant-extract cream resulted in rapid break down of the tumor. After two weeks, the lesion was reduced to about half its original size, and after 14 weeks the cancer was clinically eliminated with no scar tissue formation. Even the hairs had regrown where the tumor was originally.
- In the second case, after six weeks of treatment with eggplant-extract cream, the large skin cancer lesion appeared "cleaner" and some of the cancerous tissue had been replaced with normal tissue.
In another three weeks, the lesion was much smaller and more normal tissue was apparent. After a total of 14 weeks, the lesion was completely eliminated with no scar tissue present.
Unfortunately, simply eating eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, or similar veggies, while beneficial for many reasons, will not induce this same effect because the active components are not able to effectively penetrate your cells. This requires the addition of glycosides, molecules with various simple sugars attached to them that can latch on to receptors found on skin cancer cells.
That being said, eggplant compounds have also been found to have anti-proliferative activities against human colon and liver cancer cells.8 The fact that eggplant has anti-cancer effects is one more testament to the benefits of eating a wide variety of natural foods.
How to Choose and Prepare Eggplant
For best flavor, choose eggplants that are glossy in color, firm, and heavy for their size. The stem should be bright green, and if you push on the flesh with your thumb, it should bounce back. A lasting indentation is a sign that the eggplant may be overripe. Overripe eggplants tend to be more bitter in flavor, as do those that are stored too long.
You can store an uncut eggplant in your refrigerator’s crisper drawer (in a plastic bag), but they are quite perishable. Ideally, look for eggplants that are locally grown and use them as soon as possible after harvest.
One of the allures of eggplants is their versatility. They can be baked, roasted, steamed or boiled, mashed, pureed, diced, and sliced. Although it’s not a requirement, many people “sweat” their eggplant prior to using it in recipes to help draw out some moisture, tenderize the flesh and reduce any bitterness. To do so, the George Mateljan Foundation recommends:9
“To tenderize the flesh's texture and reduce some of its naturally occurring bitter taste, you can sweat the eggplant by salting it. After cutting the eggplant into the desired size and shape, sprinkle it with salt and allow it to rest for about 30 minutes.
This process will pull out some of its water content and make it less permeable to absorbing any oil used in cooking. Rinsing the eggplant after ‘sweating’ will remove most of the salt.”
Healthy Grilled Eggplant Recipe
Eggplant is a perfect addition to soups, stews, casseroles, and side dishes, and it’s often used as a replacement for meat in those following a vegetarian or vegan diet. But it’s also quite tasty on its own. To savor the unique flavor and texture of eggplant, all you need is a bit of healthy oil, salt and pepper. The grilled eggplant recipe below, from the Rodale Recipe Index, is one well worth keeping:
- 4 eggplants (1 lb each), with peel, cut lengthwise into 1" thick slices
- 2 tsp kosher salt, divided
- 4 tbsp extra virgin olive or coconut oil
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- Layer several paper towels on baking sheet. Place half of eggplant on top in single layer. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of the salt and cover with paper towels. Arrange second layer of eggplant, sprinkle with remaining salt, and cover with paper towels.
- Let eggplant stand 30 minutes, then rinse each piece and blot dry. (This helps extract excess water, reducing bitterness and preventing eggplant from absorbing excess oil during cooking.)
- Brush both sides of an eggplant slice with oil to coat and transfer to large bowl. Repeat with remaining oil and eggplant slices. Season with pepper.
- Heat grill to medium. Grill eggplant, with cover closed, 16 to 20 minutes, turning once, until lightly browned and tender. Refrigerate leftovers in airtight container for a day or two.