If you’re looking to add some diversity to both your garden and your cooking, Asian eggplants are a fantastic choice.
Available in numerous shapes, sizes, and flavors, they’re fun to grow and brighten up any garden.
In this guide, we’ll take a look at the various types of Asian eggplants, how to grow
them, and some ideas for cooking with them.
Types of eggplant
Several centuries ago, eggplants (Solanum melongena) used to be small, white, and rounded and looked very similar to a chicken egg. In fact, this is where the name ‘eggplant’ comes from.
However, in modern Western cuisine, the purple eggplant, also known as aubergine, is by far the most commonly used.
But, if you look further east, especially in Asia, you will be met with a wide selection of cultivars and varieties, many of which look and taste drastically different from the one you’re used to. The easiest way to differentiate the types of eggplants is by color and shape.
– Western eggplants
Western eggplants are typically oval or tear-shaped, ranging from 5 to 10 inches (12 to 25 cm) in length. They’re usually a deep purple color (although white or even striped cultivars are becoming increasingly popular), and are best cooked.
– Asian eggplants
Meanwhile, Asian eggplants range in color from white to green, yellow, purple, and even pink. They come in various shapes and sizes and can be either small and round or long and thin. Finally, they have a very distinct flavor and can be eaten cooked or raw.
Let’s take a closer look at the numerous types of Asian eggplants.
The many different Asian eggplant varieties
Asian eggplants come in a vast array of cultivars, each offering something slightly different and providing a wealth of flavor profiles to enjoy.
In this guide, we’ll touch on some of the most common and delicious.
- Chinese eggplant
- Indian eggplant (brinjal)
- Japanese eggplant
- Korean eggplant
- Filipino eggplant (talong)
- Thai eggplant (makhuea)
1. Chinese eggplant
Chinese eggplants are long and thin, usually around 2 inches (5 cm) wide and 12 inches (30 cm) long. They’re lighter in color than Western eggplants, with lavender skin, although some cultivars can even be pink.
Chinese eggplant has white, tender flesh and very few seeds. It is also much sweeter than Western eggplants, which means that you don’t have to soak it in salty water to remove the bitterness before cooking.
The skin is also thinner and can be left on while prepping or peeled off, depending on your preference. Chinese eggplant goes great in a stir-fry or even marinated in fish sauce and grilled.
2. Indian eggplant
The Indian eggplant, known as brinjal in its native land, may look similar to the one used in Western cuisine at first glance. The traditional variety has a round shape and the typical purple color, yet it is much smaller in size.
Even when fully ripened, it stays as little as 3 inches (8 cm) long and weighs around 4 ounces (115 grams) — almost the size of a tomato. Indian eggplant comes in either purple or striped varieties, although there are many hybrids and cultivars in terms of size, weight, and color.
Indian eggplant has a medium-thick skin that is never peeled in traditional cooking. The flesh is white and crisp, with few small seeds, and the texture is smooth and creamy when cooked.
It doesn’t have the bitter taste of Western eggplants. Due to its small size, the Indian eggplant is perfect for stuffing, and it works wonderfully in Indian dishes, especially curries and Baingan Bharta.
3. Japanese eggplant
Japanese eggplants are quite similar to their Chinese neighbors. They’re long and thin, reaching up to 10 inches (25 cm) in length, although some can grow as big as 16 inches (40 cm).
The traditional variety has a darker purple color than the Chinese eggplant, although you can also find cultivars that are light lavender, even bright yellow. You can also find hybrid varieties that have a more oval shape, similar to the Western ones, but with the taste and texture of Japanese versions.
Japanese eggplants have a soft skin and meaty texture, and they’re also relatively light, often weighing around 100g per piece. They’re also less bitter and have very few seeds.
One thing that makes them stand out is the fact that the skin retains its color when cooking, making it a colorful and tasty addition to many dishes. Its unique taste makes Japanese eggplant a very versatile vegetable to use in cooking.
You can substitute it for Western eggplant, although it will truly shine when used in tempura, miso soup, stir-fries, or any dishes that use ginger, soy sauce, mirin, and even sake.
4. Korean eggplant
The skin on a Korean eggplant is medium-thick, revealing a tender, white flesh when cut, with few seeds. Its taste is sweeter than that of Western eggplants, and you don’t need to soak it in salty water or prepare it in any way to remove the bitterness.
You can also leave the skin on when cooking. Korean eggplant is best used in fermented dishes such as kimchi and grilled, steamed, or tossed in a spicy stir-fry.
5. Filipino eggplant
Named talong in its native country is one of the most important vegetable crops in the Philippines and popular and has many traditional recipes.
Filipino eggplant has a thin skin that does not require peeling, meaty, white flesh, very few seeds, and a creamy texture when cooked.
We recommend using it in several recipes to make the most out of its mild and sweet taste. These recipes include tortang talong (eggplant omelette served with the stem attached), grilled, baked, stir-fried in any flavor combo using ginger, garlic, fish sauce, calamansi and coriander.
6. Thai eggplant
Thai eggplants are both tasty and very showy. The traditional variety is light or dark green (sometimes striped), round-shaped, and relatively small, usually around 2 inches (5 cm) in diameter.
You can also find modern hybrids and cultivars that are similar to Chinese eggplants in their thin, cylindrical shape, although the taste and color tend to be similar.
Thai eggplants have a distinct taste that sets them apart from other Asian eggplants. They have the same thin skin that does not require peeling. However, the flesh can range in color from pale green to white, and it has numerous brown seeds, which are edible. It’s best to note that they are also a bit more bitter than other Asian eggplants, but not unpleasantly.
Given their small size of Thai eggplants, they often resemble green cherry tomatoes. The round varieties can be cooked whole or just cut in halves. The flesh of these eggplants is highly absorbent, making it perfect for curries or even soups. Although mildly bitter, you can eat them raw in a Thai-style salad, topped with a curry dressing.
Don’t forget to pair your Thai eggplant dishes with plenty of aromatics such as ginger, chillies, coconut, lemongrass and lime.
What is a green eggplant?
You might have heard people talking about green eggplants on gardening blogs or, more commonly, cooking. You can find small green eggplants around the world, large ones, oblong ones, and even round green eggplants. However, there is no definitive green eggplant cultivar.
Despite this, what most people refer to when talking about green eggplants is the humble Thai eggplant. The majority of its cultivars have skin that is naturally a shade of green, and some even have green flesh. Some Indian eggplants are also green in color, though these will typically be referred to as brinjal rather than green eggplant.
Indeed, like white eggplants, you’ll find green cultivars of most Asian eggplants and even some western varieties. But, for the most part, Thai and green eggplants are typically interchangeable. If in doubt, check the shape and size, with green eggplants resembling green cherry tomatoes.
How to grow Asian eggplants
Growing Asian eggplants from seeds is a lot easier than you’d think. These plants may seem exotic at first, but they generally need the same growing conditions as tomatoes or peppers.
Here are our growing tips for a bountiful harvest.
– Germinating Asian eggplant seeds
Before you start planting your eggplants outside, we recommend getting them to sprout indoors. This way, the delicate seedlings will be safe from sudden temperature drops or hungry insects.
1. Use seedling pots
The easiest way to get eggplant seeds to germinate is to plant them in compostable seedling pots, which are easy to find in garden centers or nurseries. Fill each paper pot with compost or nutrient-rich potting mix, place one seed in each pot, and lightly cover with soil. Using a water spray pump, mist the pots every day, and keep warm (around 75°F / 24°C), sunny part of the house.
Germinating eggplant seedlings indoors in compostable paper pots is more efficient and foolproof than planting them straight in the soil. This way, you will know which seeds have sprouted, and you also have more control over the growing conditions at a crucial time of the plant’s life.
2. Grow for 2 weeks
Asian eggplant seedlings take about 2 weeks to appear. Continue watering them with a spray pump until the seedlings are around 2 inches (5 cm) tall and have at least two sets of leaves each. Then you can start planning to transplant them outside.
3. Transplant outside
When it’s time to move the seedlings outside, don’t remove them from the pots, as this can damage the fragile root systems and the tender stalks. Instead, dig a hole that’s big enough for the pot, and place it inside. The paper will decompose over time, and the roots will break through the soft tissue and dig into the soil with no problems.
Growing Asian eggplants outdoors
You can move your Asian eggplant seedling in the soil outdoors in late spring or early summer. Here’s what you need to know.
– Soil and watering
Plant in nutrient-rich, well-draining soil, with a pH ranging from 5.8 to 6.5. Dig small holes about 2 feet (60 cm) apart and place the compostable seedling pots inside. Give them a thorough watering on the first day, and continue regular watering until the plants have settled. Avoid overwatering, however, as this can cause wilting and root rot.
– Provide support
Once you have transplanted your seedlings to the soil, it is essential to stake them as soon as possible, before the roots start to spread. The vast majority of eggplants produce plump fruit, putting a strain on the stalk, causing it to bend and even snap. You can use a plastic or even bamboo stake that’s around 4 feet (120 cm) tall.
Place it about 2 inches (5 cm) away from the plant, and push it into the soil to a depth of around 8 inches (20 cm). As the plant grows, you can use string to tie it to the stake, taking care not to tie it too tightly, as this can damage the stalk.
The main thing to provide your Asian eggplants with is plenty of light and warmth. Pick a part of your garden that gets plenty of direct sun, and make sure that the temperature doesn’t drop below 70°F (21°C).
You can grow eggplants outdoors in your garden. However, we recommend planting them in a greenhouse, as they need a lot of heat and sun for a good yield. Growing them in a greenhouse also keeps them safer from insects and pests.
– Promoting fruit and flowers
Asian eggplants tend to grow smaller plants than their Western cousins, with the eggplant tree usually reaching up to 18 inches (45 cm) tall. All varieties of eggplant produce purple flowers, which can be quite showy. The flowers are self-pollinating, but if you are growing eggplants in a greenhouse, you might need to pollinate them instead manually.
The secret to an abundant fruit yield is providing your Asian eggplants with plenty of moisture as they reach the fruiting period. Once the flowers have wilted, you can add a mulch layer at the plant’s base to regularly retain moisture and water. Apply a liquid fertilizer solution when you notice that the fruit is starting to take shape, and once more a couple of weeks later.
When to harvest Asian eggplants?
Depending on the cultivar, Asian eggplants are ready to pick as early as 50 days after sowing outdoors, although most varieties take around 60 days. Using gardening scissors, cut the fruit off the vine, half an inch from the top’s green part (the calyx). Don’t try to pull or snap the eggplant off the vine, which can damage the main plant.
– How do you tell if an eggplant is ripe?
Given that many Asian eggplants can be white, yellow, and even green when mature, it can be difficult to tell if they’re ready to pick.
Luckily, we have a few tips for checking if your eggplants are ripe.
- Touch: A ripe eggplant fruit should be firm to the touch, but not hard, with smooth, glossy skin. Give the eggplant a light squeeze: if the flesh ‘bounces back’, without leaving any dips, it’s ready to be picked.
2. Sound: Tap the eggplant and listen to the sound it makes: if it sounds dull, the fruit is ready. If it sounds a bit hollow, that’s a sign that the eggplant is overripe. You can still eat it, although it will be a bit dry and more bitter.
3. Slice: If you’re still unsure about whether an eggplant is ripe or not, another way to check if it’s good to eat is to slice it. Remove the fruit from the plant and cut it in half lengthwise. Mature fruit has a few small, white seeds and firm, white flesh. If the seeds are starting to turn brown, that indicates that the eggplant is too ripe. It is still edible but not as tasty as it should be.
– Harvesting tips
Asian eggplants taste their best when they’re slightly immature, so don’t allow them to ripen on the vine for too long.
Always check the information on the seed packet to see how large the fruit can grow, and use that as a guideline when timing your eggplant picking. If you accidentally pick them too soon, you can ripen eggplants off the vine by placing them in a warm area for a couple of days, ideally in direct sun.
Do not pick or eat soft eggplants, spotted, bruised, or wrinkled, or if the flesh has started to turn brown.
Now that you know how to grow Asian eggplants and ensure a bountiful harvest let’s recap the basics.
- Asian eggplants come in many varieties: long and purple, round and green, even red or yellow.
- Most Asian countries have their distinct eggplant varieties, such as Chinese, Thai or Indian.
- Unlike Western eggplants, they are less bitter and have thin skin that doesn’t need peeling.
- They come from the same family as tomatoes and peppers and require the same growing conditions.
- Germinate the seeds in a compostable seedling pot before planting outside.
- Provide your eggplant trees with plenty of sun and warmth and regular watering during the fruiting period.
- Asian eggplants are ready to pick as early as 50 days after planting outside.
- Enjoy them in your favorite Asian dish — don’t forget to add ginger, garlic and chillies!
Now all that’s left to do is choose your favorite type of Asian eggplant and grow it yourself!