The eggplant is a large, unusual vegetable that has enjoyed a resurgence of sorts over the last few years. It is familiar to smartphone users as a popular emoji, but the plant itself can be used as an ingredient in various dishes to give them a unique flavor and texture.
You can make moussaka, add it to salads and curries, stuff it with rice, or even roast it on its own for a nutritious and colorful meal. The eggplant is extremely versatile, making it ideal to have in your fridge.
Some plants are given common names based on their scientific names. However, this is not the case with the eggplant. Its species is called solanum melongena, indicating that it is part of the Solanaceae family.
This group consists of many nightshades, including very toxic ones (fortunately eggplant itself is perfectly safe to touch and eat). Other foods in the Solanaceae family include potatoes, peppers and tomatoes.
So if it’s not anything to do with the scientific name, why is it called eggplant? As you may have noticed, the taste isn’t anything like chicken eggs, so that’s not the reason for the mysterious epithet either. Read on to find out the actual reason and learn more about this incredible vegetable.
The main logic behind the name eggplant is simply because the shape resembles that of an egg. Well, more accurately: it used to. Modern eggplants look quite different from earlier versions of the plant, which were much smaller and not the purple we are familiar with today.
Instead, they were yellow or white and roughly the same size as an average hen’s egg.
This makes a lot more sense than trying to see any similarities between eggs and eggplants these days. They were named as such back in the 1700s, so the species has undergone a lot of changes since then and is pretty much unrecognizable now from the way it was.
Nevertheless, modern eggplants still look vaguely like eggs, even though they are now completely the wrong size and color.
White eggplants still exist as a variation today, but they are larger than the older version and look more like goose eggs. You won’t see these in grocery stores, as the majority of current eggplants have been bred to be the fat and purple ones we know and love.
Purple is considered to be more appealing for consumers, so this is what we have. Wild populations of white eggplants can still be found around parts of South Asia.
What Is The Eggplant Called Elsewhere?
You may be surprised to find out that it isn’t always called an eggplant, and different places have different names for this vegetable. It is grown worldwide, so naturally it isn’t just eggplant everywhere you can find it, and most terms for it depend on the specific language used in each country.
In the UK, it is known as an aubergine, which of course comes from the French word for the same food item. In fact, the majority of Western Europe calls it aubergine, as well as the French-speaking regions of Canada (Quebec).
Funnily enough, it was the Europeans who introduced the name eggplant in the first place, which the Americans later adopted. Nowadays, eggplant is not used to refer to the vegetable in Europe.
Many Asians and South Africans know it as brinjal, and it is used a lot in curries and condiments. For instance, you may have heard of brinjal pickle, which makes a delicious accompaniment to any Indian meal.
Brinjal comes from the Portuguese word beringela, which is just their term for an eggplant. This in turn is derived from the Arabic, along with the term aubergine.
Which Other Plants Have Different Names?
Zucchini is similar to eggplant in that it is not known as zucchini everywhere. In the US, we borrow the Italian term, whereas in British English they use the diminutive French term meaning ‘little marrow’.
Both names come from the same root cucurbita, which is Latin for ‘gourd’. Australians, Canadians, Germans and Danes also call it zucchini, while South Africans and Malaysians prefer courgette.
A rutabaga is known as a swede in the UK, which can get confusing seeing as that is also the term for a Swedish person.
Then there are certain herbs such as cilantro (coriander), as well as leafy greens like arugula (rocket) and endive (chicory). These are mainly disagreements between British English and American English, even though most of the names originate in Europe anyway.
The US tends to use Italian terms because in the late 1800s and early 1900s, many Italian immigrants traveled to America and introduced their own words for vegetables they found there. These were adopted by the natives as they were generally easy for them to pronounce.
Is Eggplant Actually a Vegetable?
If you are suspicious about the terminology used when referring to the eggplant, you are right to be – it isn’t technically a vegetable. Eggplant is in fact a fruit, which is the case with many foods that are commonly thought of as vegetables, including tomatoes, cucumbers and squashes.
This is because these foods contain seeds and are found in the flowering part of the plant. Vegetables, on the other hand, are the other parts of the plant that you can eat (leaves, roots etc.).
However, the plants listed above are still used as vegetables in the culinary sense. We consider any plants that are edible by humans to be vegetables, so it is still perfectly legitimate to refer to eggplants as such.
Although it can be confusing if you don’t know the history, the name eggplant actually makes sense when you have the full information available to you. Look at pictures of white/yellow eggplants and you will see a striking resemblance to eggs that hens lay.
The name has stuck around even though modern eggplants are very different, showing that it’s as good a name as any to describe this vegetable.
Fortunately, the plant doesn’t have any similarities in taste to its namesake, as this would seem rather strange for a plant-based food! Now you can enjoy your eggplant even more with your new-found knowledge, and you can pass it on to all your friends.