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Eggplant: A vegetable with absolutely no merit?

Zubin D’souza

Every winter when I visit the local farmer’s market, I am floored by the sight of row upon row of shiny, smooth skinned, purple eggplant. The sight always fascinated me and excited me because I do tend to enjoy a good dish with eggplant and then the reports started trickling in….. Eggplants were deemed evil, garbage, deadly…

I stopped reading and I continued eating!

Why should a scientist with half a test and finger on the submit button decide what I am going to eat anyway?

Recent findings apart, am I going to ignore the wisdom of the ages and give up on generations of eggplant gorging populations? Do I not know that eggplant has had its fair share of controversies prior to the recent spate of flak that it has been facing?

Well, to start off…there are several strike marks against the poor eggplant. You would obviously wonder as to why a vegetable that looks so unlike an egg would be named so. Well, earlier when eggplant was bred to be consumed, they were made to appear small and white, slightly larger than a hen egg and about the size of a goose egg. Those varieties are still available but it is the dark purple variety that has really made its mark. Of course eggplant is also known as melazana, aubergine and brinjal.

The word ‘melanzana’ which is used through most of the Mediterranean region earned its name from two Latin words ‘mela insana’ which roughly translates to mean ‘apples of insanity’, it was also called ‘mad apples’ in English for a very long time.

The Benali word ‘baigun’ used to describe this vegetable may have arisen out of ‘bina gun’ which means without merit or without any positive attributes whatsoever.

Why would a vegetable that is low in carbohydrates, protein, fat, dietary fibre and a moderate amount of manganese instil so much fear in the hearts of people? To top it all, it contains chlorogenic acid which is a naturally occurring chemical and antioxidant that slows down the release of glucose into the bloodstream after a meal. Why then would people believe that the vegetable would cause madness?

Eggplant belongs to the deadly nightshade family and although we are not really interested in the parentage of everything that we eat, this one does ask for a second look. The nightshade family includes under its wings some brilliantly dubious characters like belladonna and tobacco which are known for their highly potent alkaloids and in some strains of nightshade, they may even be toxic. Some varieties have been used to create poisons since ancient times and hence the general doubt on the safety of consuming the vegetable.

In fact several texts from the Middle Ages that spread over several cultures claim that eggplants cause insanity.

On the flip side though, the nightshade family also has potatoes, tomatoes and peppers which we have been eating for centuries without additional nuttiness added to our life.

The leaves of the eggplant are poisonous when consumed in large quantities but we are not going to do that, are we? Nothing to be worried about then! There are some folks though who have developed allergies to eggplant. They get itchiness in the throat, sometimes a mild headache may occur but then people are allergic to peanuts as well and that does not make them all that bad.

In fact eggplants have always been prized for their unique flavour and spongy texture. Eggplants, when raw may have a slightly bitter taste but tests have shown that consuming eggplant juice has managed to reduce cholesterol build up in the body including that in the aorta.

In fact eggplants even contain a compound called nasunin that is known as a brain food because it protects the brain cell membranes from damage.

The plant originally grew wild in India and was first developed in China. In fact it has been known to us from prehistory and now we consume the largest amount of eggplant in the world.

I think it is high time we shift from ‘bina gun’ to calling it ‘bhara gun’ which means full of good properties!

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