can I do about bitter eggplant?
makes eggplant bitter and what can I do about it? Is
this the sign of a bad eggplant?
How nice to get a question on eggplant, also called an
aubergine. This is a beautiful, delicious vegetable, but
it’s one that frequently causes confusion among
those unfamiliar with its idiosyncrasies.
Eggplants are found in many colors, shapes, and sizes.
It takes a long, hot growing season until an eggplant
reaches its prime. In North America, the kind most frequently
seen is plump and oblong and has a glossy, deep-purple
Choose eggplants that are shiny and firm. At this stage,
any seeds found inside are still small, so the flesh will
not have accumulated the bitter compounds found in eggplants
that have become overripe and puckery. Though research
is still ongoing, one theory is that phenolic compounds
may impart this bitterness (for more information, see
the June 2003 issue of the Journal of Agricultural and
Food Chemistry and September 2003 issue of the Journal
of the American Society for Horticultural Science).
If you are worried that the eggplant might be bitter,
slice or cube it, then salt it liberally and allow it
to drain for an hour or so before cooking. Putting salt
on the eggplant triggers osmosis, which draws out excess
moisture and the bitterness along with it. Remove any
excess salt by wrapping the eggplant in a kitchen towel
and pressing on the slices or cubes, which removes even
more water. Pressing the eggplant also collapses some
of the eggplant’s air cells, so it absorbs less
oil if it’s sautéed.
When heated, eggplant tissues generally collapse quickly
due to their high moisture content. The pectin rapidly
changes form during cooking as well, and the cells are
no longer held tightly together.
When eggplant slices are fried, their spongy texture absorbs
a surprising amount of oil. As air pockets collapse, some
of the oil is released. The oil still left in the eggplant
tissues contributes to the soft, buttery texture that’s
so appealing. Oil also carries the essence of added herbs
and spices, so that eggplant dishes can become rich with
the aromas and heady flavors of onions, peppers, anchovies,
parsley, garlic, and lemon juice.
If you’re cutting down on oil, remember that roasted,
baked, or grilled eggplant is also delicious.
Wishing you luck with eggplant!
Anne and Sue