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Choosing Eggplants

Some believe they should choose male eggplants at the store because they are less bitter than female eggplants. Is this true?

Eggplants are a fruit and are neither male nor female. According to Robert Cox of Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Horticulture, Jefferson County, they are the sexless offspring of the interaction of male pollen with female parts of the flowers. They are also members (along with tomatoes and peppers) of the botanical genus Solanum, a group commonly referred to as nightshades. Plants in this group often have chemical defenses against pests, such as the bitter-tasting alkaloids in eggplants (or capsaicin in chiles). Selective breeding has reduced or eliminated most of these chemicals in many cultivated members of the genus, but bitter alkaloids, which can cause a tingling sensation, are often found in more mature eggplants.

When choosing eggplants, avoid very large specimens and choose ones that are firm and seem heavy for their size. They should have glossy, vibrant skin without blemishes, bruises, or indentations. A dull color is an indicator of overmaturity. Ideally, the stem at the top of the eggplant should be bright green. You can test for ripeness by pressing the flesh of the eggplant with your finger. It should be firm, and the flesh should spring back when pressed.

THE BOTTOM LINE:  Eggplants do not have a sex, and the best way to avoid bitter specimens is to buy younger ones. When shopping, try to select small eggplants that seem heavy for their size and that have glossy, vibrant-colored skin. If you're stuck with a large eggplant, slice or cube it, place the pieces in a colander, toss them with salt, and let them sit for 30 minutes to drain. Quickly rinse and dry the eggplant before cooking it. The salt removes some of the bitter compounds.

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