03 Aug 2018

Under cover but in the spotlight

Dubbed one of the world’s healthiest foods due to its high vitamin and mineral content, the humble eggplant is gaining momentum and innovations in breeding are making eggplants even better.

According to Nielsen, eggplant popularity is rising fast with an increase of 12.4% in dollar sales over the past year and 10.8% in terms of kilogram volume. All major retailers have reported seeing a dollar sales growth.

Rijk Zwaan Retail and Trade Manager, Frances Tolson, said a move to indoor production with versatile varieties such as Monarca RZ, combined with the interest in plant-based meals is driving demand for eggplants.  

Monarca RZ is a glossy deep purple fruit and a consistent proven performer under Australian conditions,” Frances said.

In the past, eggplants were often harvested over-mature or too large which could result in some bitterness. Consequently, many recipes call for preparing eggplant by salting the fruit to draw out the bitterness. This is something that is no longer necessary.

“Greenhouse grown eggplants are beautiful now and no longer bitter due to optimum growing conditions and harvesting at the right stage,” Frances said. 

“When people see the perfectly shaped, almost mirror-like glossy eggplant, they ask me whether it’s real!”

Eggplants are a diverse family and there are many different colours, shapes and sizes grown in different parts of the world. One example of innovation is the development of varieties that absorb less oil during cooking – a great outcome for consumers who may be watching their caloric intake. Rijk Zwaan has introduced a new variety into the Australian market, Lydia RZ. The purple striped eggplant is considered one of these special “healthy” eggplant varieties.

“Because of its denser flesh, it actually absorbs less oil when it’s cooked,” Frances explained.  

Meal creations and concepts such as herb packets attached to an eggplant is helping to drive interest and consumption.

Eggplant is a good all-rounder and extremely versatile: baked, roasted, grilled, stuffed, in a tagine, as cutlets, in salads, on the BBQ, chips, braised or as a base for salsa – it’s a tasty and adaptable addition to most dishes. For inspiration search ‘eggplant’ at lovemysalad.com   

“Eggplant is part of the future for vegetables. The viscous dietary fibre in eggplant is incredibly beneficial and I don’t think Australian’s have fully realised its benefit,” Frances said

“It’s the unsung hero and it hasn’t hit its peak yet.”