Turns out their name isn’t as ill-fitting as you might think.

By Tim Nelson
Updated July 23, 2020
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Picture an eggplant in your mind. What do you see? Probably something purple and, well, slightly phallic. If you’ve ever thought about it for more than a second, you’ve probably been left wondering how the hell this particular nightshade wound up with its seemingly ill-fitting name.

Though its name might not seem to cohere with how modern minds perceive the platonic ideal of the Solanum melongena, it turns out there is a form of the eggplant that actually resembles its namesake.

  • According to research from Purdue University’s department of Horticulture & Landscape Architecture, the English-language use of the name “eggplant” dates to the British occupation of India, where white egg-shaped fruits were spotted. The plant has a long history on the Indian subcontinent, where it was supposedly cultivated as far back as 300 BCE. White types of what Brits now call “aubergine” were frequently used in Ayurvedic medicine, specifically for the treatment of diabetes. Depictions of white eggplants can also be found in Chinese art as far back as at least 1330.
  • Though less common today, the white eggplant is still around, available in varieties with names like Easter white, Casper eggplants, and even garden eggs. However, they’ve lost out to purple eggplants due to the smaller size of some varietals, as well as a thinner skin that makes them more susceptible to bruising in transit and thus less attractive to supermarkets.

But once you make your way into a white eggplant, it’s really not all that different from its purple sibling. It’s still perfect for all the usual eggplant preparations, ranging from frying to grilling and baking. Because the bitterness of an eggplant is supposedly contained in its skin, some argue that thinner-skinned white eggplants might make for a more palatable option to those turned off by the bitterness of more common purple varieties.

So, yes. The eggplant is called the eggplant for a reason, but one that’s largely obsolete at a point when produce often travels hundreds if not thousands of miles to get to your local produce section. But if you’ve taken up gardening during the pandemic and want to try cultivating a white eggplant for yourself, you just might be pleasantly surprised at what you find.