Eggplants usually have a subtle sweet taste and are creamy when prepared properly. Because they are so porous, they take on flavors beautifully, like miso and ginger or green curry. Though I love eggplants, sometimes they can be so bitter. Here’s what an expert says about why eggplant can be bitter and how to avoid it.
4 Reasons Your Eggplant Is Bitter
1. Chemical Compounds: Blame the bitter taste on naturally occurring compounds called alkaloids that plants can produce to protect themselves as a defense against predators. Eggplants can have the alkaloid solanine, which can give it a bitter taste.
“Another compound possibly contributing to eggplant’s bitterness is anthocyanin, which is a phytochemical that gives eggplant its pretty purple hue and can act like an antioxidant when we consume it,” says Nichole Dandrea-Russert, MS, RDN.
2. Age and Size: Whether an eggplant is mildly or extremely bitter can depend on the age and size of the fruit. (Yes, eggplant is a fruit.) Larger, more mature eggplants can be more bitter, typically because their seeds are larger and seeds tend to hold on to the most bitter flavors.
3. Eggplant Variety: The bitterness can also depend on the variety. The common globe or American eggplant and small Thai eggplants are typically more bitter than Italian, white, or Japanese eggplants, which are a little sweeter.
4. Growing Conditions: The conditions under which eggplant is grown can also affect bitterness. “Harsh weather can stress the plant causing it to make more bitter compounds that protect it from environmental factors,” says Dandrea-Russert.
How To Avoid Bitter Eggplants
There are things you can do if you aren’t a fan of very bitter eggplant. First, make sure you buy the freshest eggplant you can find.
“Consuming fresh eggplant is also important as more bitter compounds may form as a harvested eggplant sits,” says Dandrea-Russert. “Look for medium-sized eggplant instead of the largest size and consume it soon after harvesting whenever possible to minimize the bitterness.” Look for one with shiny, taut skin and no wrinkles. It should feel firm to the touch.
Your cooking method can also have an impact on bitterness. Undercooked eggplant is often bitter, especially if you’re using a thick-skinned globe eggplant commonly found at most grocery stores. Peel the skin or taste and cook the eggplant for a little longer if that’s the case. Also, opt for smaller eggplants and roast, grill, or sauté, and use marinades or sauces to help balance the flavors.
Other tips to help lessen bitterness:
- Store eggplants in a cool, dark place, like the vegetable bin in your fridge.
- Remove seeds and skin before cooking.
- Cut off the stem and nearby areas before cooking. The stem and area near the stem tend to be where bitter compounds collect.
- Slice or chop the eggplant and sprinkle the pieces with salt. Allow them to sit for about 30 minutes, then pat dry before cooking.
Is It Safe To Eat Bitter Eggplant?
In general, it’s safe to eat bitter eggplant unless you are sensitive to the compound solanine. There’s usually not enough present to cause serious health issues. But if you can’t tolerate this chemical compound, you might have digestive problems. Other people might simply not enjoy the bitter flavor.
“From a culinary standpoint, a little bit of bitterness in foods, like eggplant, can be desirable as it adds complexity to the final flavor of the dish,” says Dandrea-Russert. “What’s key is to minimize excessive bitterness and balance the mild bitterness with other flavors to create a delicious eggplant experience!”
The Best Eggplant Recipes
- Skillet Eggplant Parmesan
- Grilled Japanese Eggplant with Tahini
- Sautéed Eggplant with Parmesan and Garlic
- Homemade Sabich
- Sheet Pan Ratatouille