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Eggplants: The Curious Comestible

When asked to describe an eggplant, some Americans might be at a complete loss while most others would describe an elongated vegetable with shiny, vibrant, purple skin. But why in the world is it called an “eggplant?” There’s nothing really that egg-y about it at all!

The name “eggplant” has a curious history, as does the plant itself. Eggplants were cultivated as early as 600 BC in China, and were much darker in color. Fashionable women of the time would use a dye extracted from the skin to stain their teeth black, some sort of terrible style trend. People in the U.K. now call them “aubergines” instead of eggplants, a word taken from the ancient Indian language of Sanskrit, but in India they have been called “brinjal.” Somewhere down the road, in Renaissance Italy, the term mala insana or “crazy apple” was coined because it was certain that the eater would go mad. Alternatively, they were also called “apples of love” for their supposed aphrodisiac qualities. Yet none of this answers the question: why are eggplants called EGGplants?!

When Britain first colonized India, the variety of eggplant that was mainly being cultivated was a small, white, egg-life variety. It was all the rage back then, and even now we cultivate varieties such as the Japanese White Egg Eggplant and the Lao White Eggplant that look curiously like a large goose egg. The name stuck and was carried to the colonies where the term is now used for all shapes, sizes, and colors of eggplants. (And don’t forget, just like their relative the tomato, eggplants are actually a fruit!)

How to Plant Eggplants

  • Eggplants can be started from seed, but if you are new to gardening, planting transplants is a safer bet.
  • If you start the eggplant from seed, plant the seeds about half an inch in depth. Transplants should be planted deep enough to cover over the root system.
  • Add compost to the soil before planting and an organic fertilizer after planting.
  • Water the eggplant at least one inch a week, watering less rather than more frequently.
  • Harvest when you can press your thumbnail into the fruit and the dent you make remains in the flesh.