Stroll into a standard American supermarket and you might think that all eggplants are dark purple bell-shapes. Not so! Eggplant varieties are available in a range of shapes, colors, sizes and flavors, from the common bell-shaped variety to long, tender Asian varieties, to small round green or orange specialty varieties. To select your eggplant variety, GardenZeus recommends working backward: choose your recipe then select your variety to match. If you plan to make ratatouille or gratins, choose a western variety; if you like to stir-fry with Asian recipes, choose one of the Asian varieties.
Western Eggplants. The quintessential bell-shaped purple eggplant, these are often baked or stuffed and paired with the Mediterranean flavors of tomatoes, peppers, olives, and garlic. And of course, they are essential ingredient in ratatouille, or Eggplant Parmesan. Chances are good that the eggplant you purchase in the supermarket is one of the commonly grown commercial varieties: Black Beauty, an open-pollinated heirloom, or Florida Bush, an open-pollinated variety. Black Beauty is well-known, commonly available, attractive and reliable. Gardeners who want a more prolific plant with more drought resistance should consider Florida High Bush. Gardeners in areas with shorter or cooler summers should consider Black Bell II, a common commercial hybrid, but with a shorter time to maturity of 58 days and Tobacco Mosaic Virus resistance. For home gardeners who want to grow heirloom eggplants for use in western dishes, GardenZeus recommends Listada de Gandia and Rosa Bianca. The fruit from Listada de Gandia is horticultural artwork: oval-shaped, purple with beautiful white stripes. Rosa Bianca is a GardenZeus favorite: beautiful round lavender eggplants with white stripes, very sweet flavor, and “creamy” texture. Both need sustained heat to be productive and both grow well in California’s hot inland valleys.
Asian Eggplants. Asian eggplants are excellent for roasting and grilling as well as for using in Asian stir-fry recipes. In general, Japanese and Chinese eggplants tend to be long and narrow, with thinner skin, milder flavor and smaller seeds than Western types. For a true Japanese type, GardenZeus recommends Orient Express: this “early,” reliable hybrid plant produces 10 inch long fruits in both cool and hot weather. Little Finger is a well-regarded open-pollinated variety tolerant of verticillium fungus: still early at 65 days, it produces 5 inch long fruits with a mild flavor that are excellent for grilling. Casper is a standout, productive, open-pollinated variety: its ivory, 6 inch long cylindrical fruits are often described as having a delicate “mushroom” flavor. For a Chinese eggplant look no farther than the open-pollinated Ping Tung Long: this high yielding plant from Ping Tung, Taiwan produces 18 inch long light purple fruits with mild flavor that are excellent grilled.
Specialty Eggplants. Specialty eggplants include the heirloom Turkish Orange (3 inch round eggplants best eaten green, maturing to orange with green stripes with strong flavor); and the hybrid Petch Siam (2 inch round fruits , green with white veins on a high yielding plant from Matti, an Indian village famous for eggplant.) Use Petch Siam for traditional Indian, Thai and Vietnamese eggplant dishes; use Turkish Orange for Middle Eastern cooking.
Edible Ornamentals. Patio Baby (hybrid) is considered by many to be the best eggplant variety for containers. As a producer of attractive 3 inch oval purple eggplants on a relatively compact plant, Patio Baby is the quintessential edible ornamental. The small eggplants are tender, flavorful and perfect for grilling. An AAS winner.
Grow something different: try Pumpkin on a Stick Ornamental Eggplant, an heirloom with pumpkin-shaped orange to red fruits that look like —easy guess here– small pumpkins. These eggplants that can be eaten fresh and used in Asian stir fries. When harvested and not eaten, they make spectacular additions to fall floral arrangements.
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