Dietribes: Eggplant

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• Few foods have gone through the kind of transformation the eggplant has. From being considered "the mad apple" on the presumption it caused insanity, to having a complete overhaul as the aphrodisiatic "apple of love" in sixteenth century Spain to being used as a cosmetic for black dye that was sometimes used to polish teeth to a metallic sheen in fifth century China!

• In case you were wondering, the eggplant is indeed a fruit. "But remember this joke: Knowledge is knowing that eggplant is a fruit; wisdom is not using it in fruit salad."

• Eggplants may not be any use in a fruit salad, but it makes for serviceable bacon. Eggplant has also been distinguished as a papal gift (Pope Pius IV greeted guests with it), a Crayola color as of 1998, and a way to make penguin figurines.

• Add eggplant bacon to your list -- "it is said in the Middle East that a woman is not ready to marry until she knows 1,000 ways to cook eggplant."

• Eggplants are native to India, and India and the Far East are still its largest consumers.

• Where does the "egg" bit come in for a purple plant? Originally the plant was named for a white-skinned variety that was small and similar to, you guessed it! an egg.

• Eggplant also has a rich poetic history: In Istanbul, the southern wind was named patlican metlemi (eggplant wind) because it blew on the many fires where eggplants were grilled. In Sicily, eggplant is called quaglie (partridge) because its long fruits are often cut by cooks to resemble wings. A famous Japanese proverb says: the happiest omen for a New Year is first Mount Fuji, then the falcon, and lastly eggplant.

• Medieval Persian philosopher Abu Ibn Sina cautioned that the eggplant could caused pimples, leprosy, blood thickening, insomnia, and excess of black bile. But they also gave the eggplant a little bit of a break, saying beneficial qualities could be extracted by salting and soaking.

• Eggplant is low in cholesterol and high in fiber and B6, although it has a very high sodium content with calories coming from sugars.

• We don't eat many naturally colored blue or purple foods, (there aren't that mant) but they are worth seeking out: "purple foods contain anthocyanins, which are health-promoting chemicals that help protect cells and heal your body. Research suggests they play active roles in promoting eye and heart health, decreasing cancer cell proliferation and more."

• So how do you Flossers enjoy your eggplant? As a vegetarian I use it pretty often as a meat substitute!

Hungry for more? Venture into the Dietribes archive.

‘Dietribes’ appears every other Wednesday. Food photos taken by Johanna Beyenbach. You might remember that name from our post about her colorful diet.

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August 24, 2011 - 7:42am
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