Eggplants can be an intimidating food to cook if you’ve ever attempted a dish and ended up with a squeaky, rubbery piece—kind of like how biting into an underripe persimmon can leave your mouth painfully puckery and with future persimmon hesitation. (They are worth trying again!)
Luckily, there are only a few things that you need to know about the eggplant to cook it successfully. Once you know how to do that, there are an endless number of dishes from cuisines around the world at your disposal!
In season: Mid-summer to early fall
Origin: A type of berry and technically a fruit, not a vegetable
Varieties: Many, including Globe, Japanese, Italian, Thai, and more
Cooking tip: Always salt eggplant before cooking to help it release excess water
When Are Eggplants in Season?
Eggplants are in season from mid-summer to early fall, with peak months being August and September. If you’re growing them at home, this is likely when they will be the most prolific in your garden!
During these months, try shopping at your local farmers market to get the freshest ones possible, which will be helpful in cooking them as well.
Is Eggplant a Fruit?
Believe it or not, eggplant is actually a type of berry and technically a fruit, not a vegetable. It’s in the nightshade family, along with tomatoes, potatoes and peppers. Similar to its family members, eggplant has numerous varieties, ranging from hyper-seasonal ones to others available year-round.
For growing or purchasing purposes, eggplants exist in all different colors and sizes, from white to deep purple to small varieties like Fairytale eggplants, those delicious white-and-purple striated ones that can be found at farmers markets or specialty grocery stores.
One of the most common varieties is the globe eggplant (the large, bulbous-shaped one) and the smaller Japanese eggplant (the longer, straight, thin one, a bit sweeter and less bitter than a globe eggplant). Italian eggplants are similar in shape to globes, but much smaller.
Other eggplant varieties include:
- Kamo Japanese eggplant
- Japanese white egg eggplant
- Casper white eggplant
- Ravayya Indian eggplant
- Listada de Gandia European eggplant
- Rosa Bianca Italian eggplant
- Dancer Italian eggplant
- Thai eggplant
You can grill, bake, stuff, braise and sauté eggplants, which makes them an incredibly versatile vegetable. Different varieties are better suited to different cooking methods: for example, globe eggplants are better for baking, grilling, or roasting, while quicker-cooking Japanese and Chinese eggplants are best suited to cubing and stir-frying.
The recipe you’re using will typically specify which type of eggplant to purchase.
What Does Eggplant Taste Like?
Depending on the variety, eggplants are sweet-tasting and, when cooked, take on a creamy texture with an almost meaty feel, especially if they’ve broken down during a braise. They tend to take on the flavors of the spices they are cooked in, soaking up and blending into sauces.
The flesh of the eggplant has a spongy, absorbent texture that soaks up oil quickly. (More on that below!) A cooked eggplant completely transforms in texture, going from a spongy to soft and creamy—but there’s no middle ground. Undercooked eggplant is rubbery and highly unpleasant.
How to Choose a Good Eggplant
Look for firm eggplant with smooth shiny skin without any visible bruises or spots. Ones with the green stem still attached can be an indicator of freshness (check out the condition of the stem, too). Avoid any with soft spots or dull-looking skin.
How to Store Eggplant
Once home, keep them out at room temperature and try to use the day of purchasing or shortly after, as eggplants don’t do well in the cold. If you do need to store them for longer, wrap in a paper towel, place in an unsealed bag or container, and then keep in the crisper drawer.
Eggplants can also be frozen, if you want to enjoy those in-season flavors year-round. As Ali Rosen, author of "The Modern Freezer" explains, eggplant is “the perfect element to either cook ahead and freeze on its own or include it in a grain dish or casserole that you will freeze later. Don't try to freeze it raw because its high water content will change its texture too much. But once it’s cooked it freezes like a dream!”
To freeze eggplant, first cook it in slices, cubes or make into a puree, then transfer to freezer bags, label them with the date, and make sure to remove as much air as possible before storing.
How to Prep and Cook Eggplant, or Why Salting Eggplant is So Important
Most eggplants don’t need to be peeled, though it will depend on the recipe and variety used.
It's highly recommended to salt all but the smallest eggplants. Salting helps release excess water, especially in larger or older eggplants, which tend to be more bitter and have a higher water content. If you’ve ever tried to fry a globe eggplant, you’ll notice that it immediately soaks up oil and looks heavy and dense, which makes it harder to release the excess moisture inside of it—which is why salting is helpful, so you can release a good portion of that water before cooking.
Smaller varieties of eggplant don’t have as much water to release, so they don’t need the salting step. For example, I never salt Fairy Tale eggplants, but I always salt globe or Italian eggplant.
To prep eggplant for cooking, rinse eggplant and trim the green cap and stem. Cut it into slices or cubes, toss with salt in a colander, and let excess water drip out for 30 minutes to an hour. Squeeze it with a paper or kitchen towel to remove excess salt and water.
Large globe eggplants can be halved, then roasted, grilled, or cut into 1/4-inch rounds for baking into recipes like eggplant parmesan. Grilled eggplant can be topped with spices, a soft cheese like ricotta, and some herbs – a terrific way to enjoy it in the summer!
Eggplants are found in many cuisines around the world, from the popular dip baba ganoush, where charred eggplant is pureed until it’s smooth and creamy, to the Persian dip Kashke bademjan, to baked dishes like eggplant parmesan and moussaka. Eggplants can handle strong flavors: think garlic, onions, olives, and rich sauces.