Slaving over a batch of baba ganoush or eggplant parm is wasted time if the eggplant you choose turns out to be bitter. These weighty, glossy vegetables may seem mysterious those who are unfamiliar with them, but you can predict whether you've got a winner or a loser based on a number of easy-to-spot identifiers.
Eggplants are in most grocery stores year-round, and they should be of good quality throughout the year. However, peak growing season for eggplant is from early summer through early autumn. The older an eggplant, the more bitter it is; that's why you may have better luck finding tasty, freshly-picked eggplant at a local farmer's market rather than at the grocery store.
Although the dark-purple eggplant is most commonly used in the United States, it's far from the only type of eggplant. Many varieties, such as the Japanese or Chinese eggplant, are available in stores and markets. These varieties vary in taste, size, shape and color, but you can use the same markers to pick out a delicious eggplant of any variety.
Signs of a Good Eggplant
- Smooth skin. The skin of a good eggplant is smooth, shiny and tight. Avoid eggplants that have any wrinkling or loose skin; these are signs the eggplant is too ripe and therefore bitter.
- Vibrant color. A common American eggplant should have deep-purple or nearly black skin. Other varieties come in shades of purple, green and white. No matter the variety, avoid an eggplant that looks dull in color or one that has patches of uneven color.
- Firm flesh. An ideal eggplant is firm with no soft spots. Hold it in the palm of your hand and gently squeeze; you should feel some resistance. Avoid an eggplant that feels overly soft or hard. A ripe eggplant should have similar texture to a ripe tomato.
- Heavy. A good eggplant should feel heavy for its size. This may be hard to judge. Try picking up several eggplants of similar size to get a sense of their weights.
- Green calyx. The calyx is the stem at the top of the eggplant. In a tasty eggplant, the calyx is green rather than brown. It shouldn't be withered or damaged.
Bigger isn't always better. Large eggplants can be more bitter than smaller, tender ones -- but you won't know for sure until you cut into it. Smaller eggplants also tend to be sweeter than large ones.
Storage and Use
Once you select an eggplant with some promise, get cooking since this is one produce that doesn't hold up well. If you're not going to use it that day, store a whole, unwashed eggplant in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator. Use an eggplant within four or five days for best results.