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"What can I do about bitter eggplant? "

What makes eggplant bitter and what can I do about it? Is this the sign of a bad eggplant?



Still have more questions? You'll find more answers in our archived monthly feature articles by the Inquisitive Cooks.

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Dear Elva,

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 skin.

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




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