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Eggplants — The “Mad Apple”

January 10th, 2011

 by Felix Munoz-Teng, Vice President of the student-run, UC Davis Diabetes Awareness and Advocacy Group (DAAG).
When Europeans first encountered the eggplant, they gave this delectable food a rather dark nickname – mala insane or “mad apple/egg” – because it comes from a family of poisonous plants. Although this dreary name stuck, people quickly realized the eggplant’s tremendous health benefits, and it became a staple crop of the Mediterranean.
Nutritional Value 
Although eggplants have an unflattering reputation, they deliver a wide variety of vitamins and minerals, including Thiamine, Vitamin B6, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Folate, Niacin, Pantothenic Acid, Copper, Manganese, Magnesium, Phosphorous and Potassium. Wow! They are also a good source of fiber, which is found in the skin, and are low in sodium and overall calories.
Health & Disease
Eggplants contain bioflavonoids, which may be helpful in preventing strokes and hemorrhages. They also contain an antioxidant known as phytochemical monoterpene, which may be beneficial in preventing heart disease and cancer. The National Cancer Institute is currently conducting research to determine whether they may help with the inhibition of steroidal hormones that stimulate tumor development.
However, the fruit contains some negative toxins like solanine, which may be harmful to some individuals. Solanine is an alkaloid that can result in heart failure, headaches, diarrhea, and vomiting if ingested. Be sure to check with your doctor to see if you are sensitive to this toxin before consuming large quantities of eggplants.
And remember! Eggplants can be found at the UC Davis Good Life Garden!
Try This Recipe for…Baba Ganouj – A Delicious Dip (brought to you by Eating Well Magazine)
Ingredients:
  • 2 medium eggplants, (1 pound each)
  • 4 cloves garlic (unpeeled)
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons tahini
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • Extra-virgin olive oil (garnish)
  • Ground sumac or chopped pistachios (garnish)
Preparation:
Prick eggplants all over with a fork. Thread garlic cloves onto a skewer. Grill the eggplants, turning occasionally, until charred and tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Grill the garlic, turning once, until charred and tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer the eggplants and garlic to a cutting board. When cool enough to handle, peel both. Transfer to a food processor. Add lemon juice, tahini and salt; process until almost smooth. Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with sumac, if desired. Enjoy!
This blog was brought to you by the Diabetes Advocacy & Awareness Group (DAAG)
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Fruits v. veggies: what’s the diff?

September 15th, 2010
Eggplants and tomatoes are confusing!

Our post about eggplant a few weeks ago spurred a debate around the office.  Is eggplant a fruit or veggie?  We all think of it as a vegetable, but the seeds of eggplant are surrounded by the flesh of the edible portion, like apples or watermelon.  Isn’t that what most people think makes a fruit a fruit?

Looking it up online warranted even more confusion however, as many sites referred to eggplants as vegetables (which is what most of us call them, right?) but in more formal classifications were referred to as fruit.

So we did what we do whenever we are confused – we turned to food genius (and awesome guy) Harold McGee.

According to Harold’s book, On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, it turns out that the distinction isn’t as clear as some people would think.  According to Harold, a vegetable is “essentially…a plant material that is neither fruit nor seed.”  Fruit, on the other hand, has both a technical and common definition.  According to botanists fruit is “the organ that develops from the flower’s ovary and surrounds the plant’s seeds.”  But for culinary or “common” purposes fruits are what we typically think of – apples, peaches, cherries – the sweet things we can eat right off the tree or put into pies.  So technically, green beans, eggplants, cucumbers, corn kernels and peppers are fruit.  But chefs consider them vegetables.  Why is this?

It turns out that this culinary distinction has to do with flavor, which is a result of the basic makeup of the plant.  Fruits are engineered to be appealing to animals because it benefits the plant if animals eat the fruits because it helps to disperse the seeds.  As Harold says, “they are one of the few things we eat that we’re meant to eat.” They usually have a high sugar content, complex aroma, and they soften themselves; all characteristics which add to their appeal.

On the other hand vegetables are not meant to be eaten, and sometimes even have chemical defenses that are meant to keep animals from consuming them. (Think of the strong flavors and aromas that raw onions and cabbage have!)  Vegetables also remain firm and have either a very mild flavor or a very strong one and usually require cooking to make them palatable.

So basically it depends on your intentions for the fruit/veggie.  If you are a botanist, a fruit is something completely different than what it is to a chef.

Still not convinced and think that one is more correct than the other?  According to On Food and Cooking, the definition was brought to the attention of the Supreme Court in the 1890s:

“A New York food importer claimed duty-free status for a shipment of tomatoes, arguing that tomatoes were fruit, and so under the regulations of the time, not subject to import fees.  The customs agent ruled that tomatoes were vegetables and imposed a duty.  A majority of the Supreme Court decided that tomatoes were ‘usually served at a dinner in, with, or after the soup, fish or meat which constitute the principal part of the repast, and not, like fruits, generally as a dessert.’  Ergo tomatoes were vegetables and the importer had to pay.”  

The distinction was so difficult to make it had to go all the way to the Supreme Court!

So is eggplant a fruit or a vegetable?  It depends – are you a botanist or a chef?

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Eggplant eggstravaganza!

September 2nd, 2010
imperial black beauty eggplant variety

Eggplant is definitely one of our favorite vegetables here at the garden.  Not only are they pretty, coming in a variety of shapes, colors, and sizes, but they are also incredibly delicious!  This season we are not only growing the familiar chunky purple variety (imperial black beauty), but also the Rosa Bianca and white “snowy” eggplant.

Hearty and scrumptious in so many different types of food – stir fries, lasagna, baba ganoush… I could eat it every day!  At only 27 calories per cup cooked and packed with pigments like nasunin which may help protect brain cell membranes from oxidative damage, eggplants seem almost too good to be true!  They are also high in fiber, potassium and Vitamin B6. 

Want to learn more about eggplant history and health benefits?  Visit our website or whfoods.org.

Check out the bounty from the garden this week!  Pictured here are the imperial black beauty and snowy eggplants, as well as maglia rosa tomatoes in front, black and brown boar, pink Berkeley tie dye and green zebra tomatoes, dark star zucchini, lemon cucumber and reve scallopini in back.

This is one of my favorite recipes for eggplant: sausage and eggplant stuffed pasta shells in tomato basil cream sauce.  It’s decadent and time-consuming to make, but a crowd-pleaser every time!  And now is the perfect time as  eggplant, tomatoes and basil all ripe right now!  (Recipe tip:  I leave the cream out of the sauce as the dish is rich enough with the sausage, eggplant and variety of cheeses.)

Eggplant can be a tough nut to crack in the kitchen though.  Grilled?  Sauteed?  Roasted?  Last night I sliced an imperial black beauty roasted it in the oven with some olive oil, sea salt and pepper.  I ate it on toasted wheat bread with melted mozzarella, heirloom tomatoes and arugula, and it was delicious!  But the roasting took a very long time!  It is hard to wait when you know how yummy it will be!

In the past I’ve sauteed them, but they seem to soak up too much oil.  Do you peel them? Do you eat the skins?  The skins apparently hold much of the nutrients, but are often tough and, if grown non-organically, sometimes covered with wax which traps in pesticides–in this case peeling seems necessary.

Food experts out there: we need your help!  How do you prep and cook your eggplant?  What are some of your favorite recipes?  We need some more ideas for this appetizing edible!

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3 Tips for Managing Flea Beetles on Your Eggplants!

August 9th, 2010

We’ve been bitten!  Fleas just don’t attack your pets, they can attack your plants as well!  Check out the photos of our poor eggplants.  This year we have quite a few eggplant varieties growing in the garden (imperial black beauties, rosa bianca eggplants, snowy eggplants, and Vittoria eggplants), and not one has evaded the wrath of the flea beetle.
Here are a few tips on how you can manage these pesky pests:
1.  Make sure to get rid of your garden debris in the fall to remove overwintering beetles.
2.  Cover your seedlings with a protective covering until they are in the sixth leaf stage.
3.  Use an aluminum foil mulch.
The good news is that this year the fleas planned their attack later in the season than last year which allowed our eggplants a chance to establish themselves before housing these unwanted guests.  We hope our plants will still produce enough healthy fruit to not worry about having to to get rid of the fleas, but we’ll be sure to keep you posted!
For more information, check out what the University of California Integrated Pest Management (UCIPM) Program has to say on the topic here.  
Have you had a problem with flea beetles before?  What treatments if any have given you success?  Let us know!
This is how you know you have flea beetles–holey, lacy leaves!  This plant must have been feeding an army!
In this photo you can see our eggplant in the front and our bush beans in the back.  The flea beetles have no interest in munching on those beans at all!  Their tastes are specific!
Despite their porous leaves, these eggplants continue to blossom!
I love the color of the eggplant blossoms, don’t you?
We sure hope these blossoms produce delicious fruits despite the unwanted guests!
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