The chemistry of aubergine (eggplant) colour, bitterness and browning

The eggplant, also known as an aubergine, is actually a fruit and not as is commonly supposed a vegetable. Anthocyanins are the pigment-creating component of eggplant, which gives the fruit its rich and characteristic color. There are an array of these anthocyanins, which depending on the variety of eggplant appear in different ratios. Besides causing pigment, anthocyanins are also responsible for giving the fruit its bitterness. They also cause the fruit to rapidly deteriorate and brown nearly as soon as its cut. Cells are damaged when the fruit is cut, which starts a ‘browning’ chain of chemical events to occur. There are ways to minimize damaging, or browning, such as submerging the fruit in salted water or water with lemon juice. Another fruit characteristic is sponginess, which can mean that frying lets too much oil into the fruit’s flesh. This too can be mitigated by first microwaving the eggplant, or by using salt.

Key Takeaways:

  • Aubergine’s purple color emanates from anthocyanin pigments with nasunin being the most prevalent anthocyanin.
  • Aubergines have a spongy texture to them because they contain multiple air pockets between their cells.
  • Aubergine’s flavor is a bitter one due to its phenolic compounds.

“And yes, you read that correctly ? the aubergine is technically a fruit, not a vegetable.”

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