What Does Eggplant Taste Like? The Chef's Explainer
Raw eggplants have a mildly bitter taste. Once cooked, the taste of eggplant can be easily altered. This is because the fruit can absorb oils and flavors from other ingredients due to the spongy, absorbent flesh.
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What Is Eggplant?
The eggplant, also known as aubergine, is a plant belonging to the nightshade family that produces edible fruits. Eggplants are spongy and have soft flesh, making them a favorite for vegetable dishes. The skin is most commonly purple, shiny, and is slightly rough with a bitter flavor.
Eggplants are considered vegetables like tomatoes, but they are fruits. These two are members of the Solanum genus.
The plant is believed to have been first grown in India where wild-growing species are still around. There are various cultivars of the plant that produce fruits with differing shapes, skin, color, and size.
Eggplants have a sponge-like texture that’s soft to touch and a bit firm, especially around the skin. Eggplants have small edible seeds that will go unnoticed unless you are dealing with a large variety which may have bitter seeds.
The cooking process allows the soft flesh to absorb oils and moisture. The heat sears the pieces and gives them a crispy texture on the outside while the interior gets cooked to a silky, almost crisp texture.
What Does Each Part Taste Like?
The eggplant’s skin has a slightly bitter flavor that becomes increasingly bitter as the fruit ages. Eggplants have a thin skin that ranges from deep purple to glossy white depending on the variety. The skin is rich in antioxidants and usually is edible unless you are dealing with overmatured eggplants which tend to have a bitter skin. You can peel the skin before slicing or cubing the flesh.
Eggplants contain small edible seeds located within the flesh that are bitter as they contain alkaloids. Young eggplants have soft seeds which are barely visible, and they are not yet as bitter as the mature ones. When the seeds mature, they turn brown and should be scooped out with a spoon before cooking the eggplant.
The flesh of eggplant has a rich pleasant taste that becomes more earthy, smokey, and meaty after cooking. The spongy white flesh is the most coveted part of the eggplant; this is due to its absorbency. While the spongy flesh is low in micronutrients, it makes up with its capability to absorb oils and flavors during cooking.
How Ripe Should Eggplants Be?
The best eggplants for cooking should be young but ripe. You can tell a ripe eggplant from unripe one by the glossy beauty of the skin that’s also firm.
Unripe eggplants taste bitter. These have hard flesh with tiny seeds that are still growing. They lack the spongy absorption capabilities of ripe eggplants.
When eggplants mature and ripen, they develop a pleasant earthy taste. The skin also becomes glossy, and the flesh acquires a spongy texture. The fruit has a pleasant taste, and the seeds which are still not fully mature are not only edible but also hardly noticeable.
Overripe eggplants have a bitter, foul taste. When eggplant is overripe, the flesh becomes yellowish with brown patches surrounding the seeds. At this stage, the fruit will be too bitter to cook, and the seeds will have become too noticeable.
Some varieties, on the other hand, have undergone selective breeding to get rid of unwanted traits, thus reducing the number of seeds and bitter skins.
5 Tips For Changing The Taste Of Eggplant When Cooking
1. Use Salt To Reduce Bitterness
When dealing with a bitter eggplant slice or dice it into thin pieces and sprinkle salt on them. Mix in the salt well and set aside for at least one hour. When the eggplants are ready to cook wash off the salt by dipping them in a bowl of water.
The salt draws out the bitter moisture from the eggplants, which is then washed off. The flesh will then absorb the flavor of the primary ingredient making it virtually impossible to notice the bitterness.
2. Remove The Skin
Some varieties, such as Southeast Asian eggplants, tend to be more prone to bitterness when overripe. Peeling the skin off before cooking improves the taste of eggplants when cooking. However, the skin is better left on when braising or skillet frying the eggplants as it holds the cooked flesh together.
Microwaving cubed or sliced eggplants helps to collapse the porous interior structure of the eggplant, preventing it from over absorbing oil and flavors. This, in turn, improves the taste of the eggplant and prevents it from turning rancid. Place the slices on a paper towel-lined plate in a single layer for up to 5 minutes.
4. Brush With Oil
Brush one side of the flesh with oil and add it to a hot pan, brush the upside surface next before flipping over. This prevents the oil from soaking into the fruit. If the oil is poured straight into the pan, the eggplants soak it up, preventing it from cooking through. This leads to it becoming soggy and greasy.
5. Soak In Milk
One of the easiest ways to improve the taste of eggplants is by soaking them in milk for about 30 minutes. The milk tempers the bitterness and makes the eggplant extra creamy as the flesh soaks up a good amount of milk. It is advisable to remove the seeds before soaking the eggplant in milk; otherwise, the seeds will still taste bitter.
Does eggplant taste like zucchini?
Yes, almost all eggplant varieties taste very similar to zucchini with a mild and somewhat bland flavor that’s easily paired with more flavorful ingredients.
What does eggplant parmesan taste like?
Eggplant parmesan mimics the taste of regular chicken parmesan. The mild eggplant flavor gets overwhelmed by other ingredients’ bold flavors.
Does eggplant taste like meat?
No, eggplants have a mild almost bland taste which is usually replaced by the taste and flavor of the primary ingredient in the meal. However, the texture can be slightly meaty and savory when grilled.