Aubergine/Eggplant: Ways to enjoy & health benefits

07 Jul 2023

While a beloved ingredient in many cuisines, aubergines and other nightshade vegetables occasionally get a bad reputation in terms of health. Let’s untangle common claims.

In a Nutshell

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Nightshade vegetables and arthritis? While some suggest that nightshade vegetables worsen arthritis symptoms, scientific evidence supporting this claim is lacking. Restricting these vegetables without valid reasons may unnecessarily narrow dietary options. Overall, the focus should be on diversity.Aubergines are abundant and diverse in bioactive compounds, particularly:

  • Phenolic acids, such as chlorogenic acid in the fruit flesh.
  • Anthocyanins, such as nasunin, mainly located in the fruit’s peel and responsible for the deep purple colour of certain varieties.
  • Fibre and minerals, such as copper, zinc and iron
  • Choline compounds, including acetylcholine (ACh)
  • Alkaloids, such as nicotine

Nicotine?! Aubergines and other nightshade vegetables contain many edible soft seeds that contain tiny amounts of nicotinoid alkaloids. Nicotine from food sources like Solanaceae vegetables was recently linked to a lower risk of Parkinson’s disease, because of potential effects on dopaminergic function in a way that decreases disease progression.

Improving blood pressure and psychological state: One small trial found that intake of eggplant powder at a dose equivalent to 22 g of raw eggplant per day improved blood pressure and psychological state in 100 participants. The authors suggested that acetylcholine in eggplant could lower blood pressure by suppressing sympathetic nervous activity through receptors in the digestive system.

Research continues: High-quality studies on the effects of aubergines are lacking. We need more research to get the full picture.

Overall, aubergines add colour and diversity to your meals. One portion is one-third of an aubergine. Plus, they can be turned into many delicious dishes.

Plant Tales 

Chromolithograph, c. 1870, after H. Briscoe.

Aubergine or eggplant? Same plant, different names. And its scientific name, Solanum melongena, comes from the fruit’s old name ‘mela insane’ - meaning ‘mad apple.’ (Kew Gardens)

Another berry-vegetable! Aubergine is part of the nightshade family (Solanaceae) and cousin to potatoes, tomatoes, and peppers. It’s another vegetable that defies classification as it is botanically considered a berry. We eat the plant’s large, egg-shaped fruit that comes in a variety of colours, shapes and sizes, including purple, red, pink, yellowish and even striped.

Elephants and Aubergines: The wild ancestors of the aubergine plant stretched far and wide across eastern Africa around two million years ago. The seeds dispersed because of elephants and impala roaming widely, eating the fruits and dispersing the seeds. 

Globetrotting: The plant then dispersed to tropical Asia and western Africa. Later, it was first domesticated by human populations in multiple regions of Southeast Asia. The earliest record of the eggplant documented in ancient Chinese literature was in a work from 59 BC.

To today: The plant evolved into the different varieties we eat today due to local conditions and farmers selecting for specific traits like shape, yield, lack of prickles or colour. (Martínez-Ispizua et al. 2021)

Tasty Tips

Around the world

  • Iran: Torshi ‘ye bademjan – tangy, textured pickles.
  • Turkey: Imam Bayildi – slow braise aubergines in plenty of olive oil, so delicious the imam who first ate them fainted, giving rise to the name “the imam fainted”!
  • Tanzania: Mchuzi wa biringani – an aubergine curry served with chapati or rice.
  • Morocco: Zalouk – a popular side made from roasted aubergines, tomatoes, cumin, paprika, fresh herbs, olive oil and lemon juice, and eaten with Moroccan bread.
  • Italy: Parmigiana di Melanzane – made with aubergine, parmigiano cheese, mozzarella, tomato sauce and basil. The recipe varies from region to region and family to family, with some adding a layer of hard-boiled eggs or thin slices of ham.
  • Greece: Moussaka – the ultimate comfort food, made with a rich, tomato beef or lamb mince sauce and a creamy bechamel sauce.

Plus, French ratatouille, Middle Eastern Baba Ganoush, Indian Baingan bharta, Chinese Yu Xiang Eggplant and many more!

3 ways to make the most of your aubergines

  • Embrace the heat: Roasting or grilling aubergine gives it a wonderful smoky flavour and a tender texture.
  • Pair with olive oil, spices like freshly grated nutmeg, and vibrant ingredients such as bell peppers, tomatoes, garlic, soft cheese, walnuts, or fresh herbs.
  • Add creamy elements like Greek yoghurt, tahini or feta cheese

4 recipes to try this week

Dive Deeper

History: Natural History Museum – Martínez-Ispizua et al. 2021 – Kew Gardens

Human studies & composition: Ma et al. 2020 – Nishimura et al. Nutrients. 2019 – Sharma et al. Applied sciences. 2021 – Wang et al. Journal of Food Composition and Analysis. 2023.



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