Eggplants are loved across the world including America! You may have already heard of the eggplant before, in America, it’s especially used within Italian cuisine and Italian-American cuisine. The plant is super versatile for cooking and covers many cuisines including Italian, Greek, Asian, and many more.
The general consensus on eggplant can go from hate, to ‘It’s just a pointless vegetable’, to ‘I love them!’. But if you don’t like eggplant, it might be because you haven’t tried the right variety. Eggplants, like many other plants and vegetables, come in many different varieties.
Each variety will have its own specific features that could make it more streamlined for a certain cooking process, or may just suit your specific taste and texture requirements.
In general, it is the seeds that give the fruit its bitter taste, so those varieties that are smaller will have fewer seeds and in turn, will be less bitter and potentially sweet. Moreover, if you are looking to grow eggplants, then this guide may also be helpful to find out which varieties are suited to your own growing environment.
What we in America call an eggplant, has many different names across the globe. In England, they refer to the eggplant as an ‘aubergine’, or you may hear it referred to as a ‘brinjal’ which is an Asian name for the plant.
Although, the most important name worth remembering is the plant’s Latin or a binomial name which will help you understand their varieties. The binomial name of eggplant is ‘Solanum melongena’.
You may be surprised to learn that eggplant is actually a fruit, not a vegetable. Like a tomato, it is the plant’s seeds that identify it as a fruit. Most eggplants are actually grown in Asia anyway due to the continent having the best and also indigenous environment for the eggplant to grow.
As a result, China and India combined produced 87% of the world’s eggplants, in 2019. Read this guide to eggplant varieties to learn more about what the eggplant can do for you.
Globe Eggplant (American Eggplant)
This variety is the most common in America and likely the one you will recognise at the farmer’s market. This eggplant variety is large and has a large globular shape to the fruit. The texture and potential slice size make them ideal for grilling into meat alternatives or roasting.
They have a deep purple color that is recognizable in most markets. These are also one of the cheapest varieties of eggplant. This variety has become pretty easy to cultivate in America and should be easy to find seeds for in the States.
The Italian eggplant is also pretty common in the States, but more so in Europe. The Italian eggplant also looks very similar to the American eggplant, so don’t get confused.
However, the Italian eggplant is small and thus a little sweeter in taste than the American eggplant. Its texture is also a little more meaty and tender than the American eggplant, so is also great for roasting.
This eggplant has a cool variegated body that is alternating in purple and white colors. The outcome is an exterior that makes the eggplant look like it’s straight from a fairy tale. They are much smaller and thinner than the globe eggplant, they have a more uniform slimness to them.
As a result, they cook a lot quicker and are better for dishes that require small rounds of eggplant rather than big grilled slices. Their small stature also equates to less seeds and thus less bitterness. Gardeners love to grow this variety for their interesting looks.
Sicilian Eggplant (Zebra or Graffiti Eggplant)
This is another curious eggplant variety that has an interesting look. Its exterior skin is similarly ‘zebra’ as the fairytale eggplant.
However, this eggplant is much rounder and shorter than the fairytale eggplant. As this variety has a thinner skin it is perfect for pureeing and roasting whole, apparently, in Sicily they pick these off the plant and eat them raw!
Rossa Bianca Eggplant
Similar to the Sicillian eggplant, this variety originates on the island of Sicily. For the eggplant sceptic among us, this variety could be the eggplant that you need to change your opinion on this versatile plant. Many find this variety, like the Sicilian, to have a mild and delicate flesh that isn’t as bitter as the common varieties.
They are similarly small in stature to the Sicilian variety but are prized for their sweetness. These can be hard to find locally but are super easy to grow if you can find the seeds. This is another variety loved by gardeners for its looks.
Now to Asia, where we find the Japanese eggplant. This variety is very thin and long and has a dark purple color. The fact it is so thin and long means it can be relatively sweet and does not have too many seeds. Its thin and circular body makes it perfect to cut up and stir fry into a curry, its mild sweetness is the perfect pair to spice.
As these varieties originate from Asia they generally require warmer climates to grow well, although this can easily be achieved with the correct horticultural equipment.
The Chinese eggplant is very similar to the Japanese eggplant, it has a uniformly slender and long body which is great for stir frys too. China is one of the largest exporters and cultivators of eggplant in the world, so these can be grown easily and seeds are also found pretty easily.
Their small shape is ideal for adding to curries and stir fry in any Asian cuisine. Like the Japanese eggplant, the Chinese eggplant is also mildly sweet which could be a welcome taste to those who don’t enjoy the fruit’s bitterness.
The Indian eggplant is very different from most other eggplants. It is stout and round and when mature can look a little like a tomato or a cumquat with similar glossy skin. They generally have quite a mild flavor and a relatively crunchy exterior in comparison to other varieties. These are great for roasting whole and also stuffing.
This eggplant variety is probably the least recognisable, and the most varied in shape among other varieties. The Thai eggplant is quite small like the Indian eggplant but is a little smaller, still. Additionally, these Thai eggplants are often very small, but can vary a lot in color.
It’s quite easy in Thailand to come across white and green varieties as well as the familiar purple color too. These roast well whole, but are commonly brined and de-seeded in Thailand due to this variety’s bitter flavor, but don’t let that put you off – when cooked properly these eggplants can be as delicious as the rest.
There are many varieties that cultivate white eggplants such as the Thai variety. But sometimes white eggplants can be bred.
Commonly, white eggplants have a milder taste than their purple counterparts but this can depend. Their main attraction is the white skin that some people enjoy to use when the skin is on show. The white eggplant actually used to be the most common variety, and until the introduction of the globe eggplant, all eggplants actually used to be white.
The modern globe eggplant has caused these other varieties to emerge and are generally preferred in modern horticulture and cooking. Generally, the white eggplant is now considered an ‘heirloom’ variety’ by most growers.
These eggplant varieties vary widely in taste, texture and looks, this is all thanks to where they were grown and their specific genetic makeup.
Most of these varieties come from the modern globe eggplant or Solanum melongena which is a result of modern American cultivation methods and the emergence of mass agriculture. As mentioned in the article, eggplants were originally green or white in color until the emergence of the Solanum melongena.
To generally group the varieties, the Asian varieties tend to be sweeter but often longer and slimmer, while the European varieties are often larger and more globular in shape like a teardrop. If you don’t enjoy the bitterness of eggplant, we would suggest you try the rosa bianca eggplant if you can get your hands on it, or the japanese eggplant, which is easier to find, as they are both sweeter.
For the green-thumbed readers, the variegated species, as well as the now ‘heirloom’ white variety, are often favoured among gardeners. This is due to their curious exterior and the colors they show off; they are grown for their cool looks and novelty.
In general, the Asian varieties need warmer climates to grow best, while the European varieties can grow in some colder temperatures.
We think eggplants are great and that hopefully with the help from this list you might start growing your own eggplants, or may try to get hold of one of the harder to find varieties in order to convert an eggplant skeptic to the light.