Every time you order eggplant parmigiana or ratatouille from a restaurant, you love every bite of it. But eggplant skin can be thick and chewy, and when you buy an eggplant at the grocery store to prepare it at home, it just never seems to turn out right.
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Yes, you can eat the skin. Some people prefer to peel the eggplant, but if you know how to prepare it right, you can still cook eggplant with the nutrient-rich skin left on.
What's a vegetable lover to do? Is the secret to peel eggplant before you cook it? Or is there another secret you should try to stop your homemade eggplant dishes from being chewy, bitter or wrong in some other way?
A Little on Eggplant Nutrition
Eggplant, a warm-season vegetable grown annually in temperate climates and perennially in tropical ones, is a popular vegetable known for its purplish black color. The Produce for Better Health Foundation recommends that when you're selecting an eggplant, find one that feels heavy for its size and doesn't have cracks or discolorations on its skin.
More important, however, here's what you should know about eggplant from a nutrition standpoint.
Like tomatoes, eggplants are grouped with vegetables but are technically a fruit. Eggplants are free of fat, cholesterol and sodium, they're low in calories, and they're a good source of fiber. A 3-ounce serving of eggplant has only 20 calories and 5 grams of carbohydrates, 3 of which are fiber.
Should You Peel Eggplant?
Now comes the big question. Although eggplant has a soft, mild-tasting inside, and is great for baking, sautéing and frying, this vegetable has a thick, bitter-tasting skin, which is one of the many reasons people want to peel eggplant.
But the skin can sometimes be the healthiest part of the vegetable. A July 2012 article published in Advances in Nutrition acknowledges the wisdom that fruits and vegetables are a nutritious part of a healthy diet, and it noted that keeping the peel on fruits and vegetables will retain much of the fiber. Whenever you can, you should eat the entire fruit or vegetable for maximum benefits.
Sometimes removing the skin has little to do with taste and instead has to do with cleanliness. Many people will remove the skin from fruits and vegetables to remove contaminants, but Tufts University says this isn't necessary. The outer peel of a vegetable can have dirt and bacteria, as well as pesticide residue — even the organic vegetables. But giving your produce a good wash under running water will get them clean enough that you can eat the skin.
Be sure to rub with your hands or a soft brush while you're washing, and take care of the stem, the blossom and any bruised areas. While some people might prefer using commercial produce washes or vinegar solutions, plain water works just as well. This will get your vegetables clean enough that you can treat your body to the plant chemicals and fiber found in the skin.
Making Eggplant Skin More Edible
Once you resolve that you will leave the eggplant skin on, how can you make it a little easier to enjoy? The easiest solution is to take care in picking the right eggplant. Most sources agree that younger, smaller eggplants have thinner skins that are easier to eat, but older eggplants should be peeled before eating.
The University of Vermont Department of Plant and Soil Services explains that many eggplants bought in supermarkets are overripened, which explains their bitterness. If you get a fresh eggplant harvested at the right time, it will be less bitter.
Some recipes, such as baba ganoush, will call for removing the eggplant skin anyway, so you are safe choosing a larger eggplant. To make baba ganoush, you'll roast the eggplant, remove the skin, and mash the inner flesh with lemon juice, garlic, tahini and olive oil.
For simple grilling or recipes calling for the skin to be left intact, choose a smaller eggplant. Another alternative to peeling the skin is to soak the eggplant in water for 15 minutes before preparing it, which should remove some of the bitterness.
It's important to note that even if the skin is chewy and unpalatable in some circumstances, it's still safely edible. That can't be said of the whole eggplant. The leaves of the eggplant are toxic and should never be eaten. It's also important to remember that eggplant is a vegetable that's never served uncooked for good reason: Chemicals in the eggplant can upset your digestive system if it is eaten raw, so you should always cook it before serving.
Ideas for Eggplant Recipes
If you're looking for ways to use eggplant in your home kitchen, there are lots of eggplant recipes you will want to try. The Produce for Better Health Foundation recommends eggplant as a meat alternative because of its savory taste and substantial texture, whether you're vegetarian or just trying to cut back in general.
Many of the recipes on the foundation's website don't require skinning or peeling. Instead, there are simple options of stir-frying small cubes of it or grilling sliced rounds of it. But if you want to get fancy, the eggplant recipes include a way of making imitation bacon out of it.
If you're just experimenting with different preparation methods, remember that eggplant flesh turns brown quickly after it is cut, but you can stop this by spritzing the slices with lemon juice. You can also remove some of the water from the eggplant by salting it before preparation and cooking.
Eggplant is a nutritious vegetable that can be used in a multitude of ways, and you shouldn't be intimidated by it just because it has a thick skin that can be difficult to tame. Sure, you can remove it. But if you find ways of preparing this great vegetable with its skin still on it, you'll enjoy even more of the fiber and plant chemicals it has to offer.
- USDA Plant Guide: “Eggplant”
- Advances in Nutrition: “Health Benefits of Fruits and Vegetables”
- Produce for Better Health Foundation: “Eggplant”
- Produce for Better Health Foundation: “How to Use Eggplant as a Meat Alternative”
- Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction: “Eggplant”
- Tufts University: “Is It Better to Eat Fruits and Vegetable Peels for the Nutrients or Cut Them Off to Avoid Contaminants?”
- USDA Food Data Central: “Eggplant”
- University of Vermont Department of Plant and Soil Science: “The Many Uses of Eggplant”