An aubergine is a solanaceous fruit native to Asia. Many Americans know the fruit better as an eggplant, while some regions of India refer to it as a brinjal. There are numerous other regional names for the aubergine, which plays a role in the cuisine of many nations. Aubergines can be baked, stewed, roasted, grilled, or fried with a variety of coatings and sauces. Some examples of dishes containing aubergine include Eggplant Parmesan, baba ghanouj, and baingan bartha.
The formal botanical name for the aubergine is Solanum melongena. The plant is related to other solanaceous plants including potatoes and tomatoes, all members of the nightshade family. Like its relatives, the aubergine has small five petaled flowers and lobed leaves. Aubergine flowers range in color from white to pale purple, depending on cultivar. The common name of “eggplant” comes from the resemblance that some of the fruits have to eggs. “Aubergine” derives from a Persian word, badenjan.
Globally, a number of different varieties of aubergine are grown, ranging from the long finger like Japanese eggplant to plump globular fruit. The color can range from white to deep purple, and the shape morphs from almost spherical fruits to oblong ones. In all cases, aubergine needs to be cooked before it can be eaten, and larger, older fruits tend to get bitter. To reduce the bitterness of aubergine before cooking, it can be salted, weighted, and rinsed.
Some consumers are troubled by the texture of eggplant. Eggplant is frequently pureed to use as a base and textural carrier of flavors, since it absorbs flavor very well. Pureed eggplant dishes may be a better choice for people who dislike the texture of whole eggplant, so that the flavor of the fruit and the dish can be appreciated. However, whole roasted or grilled slices of eggplant are also excellent, for those who appreciate the intriguing texture.
Technically, aubergines are fruits, not vegetables. They prefer warm weather climates, and will grow perennially from USDA zones nine to 11. They can also be cultivated as annuals in zones seven and eight. As a general rule, aubergines are cultivated from seedlings, which are sprouted in a greenhouse and planted out after the last risk of frost. Approximately three feet (one meter) should be left between plants, as they can start to sprawl as they grow. Water lightly every week and mulch to help the plants retain moisture, and pinch back blossoms in the later summer and early fall so that the plant can dedicate its energy to developing the young fruit already starting to grow.