What Makes Eggplants Bitter (and how to fix it)

Have you ever spent time lovingly cooking a dish with eggplant only to taste a mouthful of bitterness and horror? Well, I’ve been there too. And I wanted to find out what makes eggplants bitter and how to make sure I never eat a bitter eggplant again. Read on to find out more.

What Makes Eggplants Bitter

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What Makes Eggplants Bitter?

To get sciency for a minute, eggplants contain Anthocyanins which are a type of phenolic compound and they are responsible for making eggplants bitter. But what you really need to know is that eggplants become bitter as they age and become old. So the more time eggplant sits around on the supermarket shelves or at home without being used, the more bitter it will become.

If you want to avoid a bitter eggplant, give eggplants that are off-color, wrinkly, and squishy a big miss. Instead, look for eggplants that are still firm with glossy and smooth skin and good color.

Eggplants are best cooked and eaten when they are freshly harvested. So you are more likely to find fresh eggplants are farmers’ markets or you can try growing your own eggplants.

Is it ok to Eat Bitter Eggplant?

The good news is that you can eat bitter eggplant. It’s safe to eat them but… do you really want to? Bitter eggplants are usually overripe, old, or quite possibly starting to rot. So although it is okay to eat them, they won’t taste very good – and definitely don’t eat them if they are rotting!

Is the Skin or the Flesh of the Eggplant Bitter?

Eggplant Slices - What Makes Eggplants Bitter

The skin and the flesh of the eggplant can both be the culprit for its bitter taste. The skin can be bitter if the eggplants are large and old. Its skin becomes thick and rubbery then. That is why it’s important to select smaller and younger eggplants for eating.

The flesh can be bitter too because of the anthocyanin compound found in the flesh of the eggplants. The older the eggplants, the more it accumulates this compound causing them to be bitter.

Older eggplants also have larger and more mature seeds which can be the cause of its bitterness. The seeds hold in most of the bitterness. So, the larger and more mature the seeds are, the more bitter it is.

How to Get Rid of the Bitterness in Eggplant

No matter how carefully we select eggplants, sometimes we can’t just get away from the bitter ones. So here are several ways to help you get rid of the bitter taste in eggplants.

Peeling the Eggplant Skin

Peeling Eggplants - What Makes Eggplants Bitter
Peeled eggplant on the grill

The skin of eggplant has the most antioxidant content, that’s why it’s best to pick the younger eggplants with thin, glossy, and vibrant skin.

However, if you have an older eggplant, peeling the skin can help reduce the bitterness as the skin contributes to its bitter taste. Peel the eggplants only right before using them.

Salting Eggplant

Salting is one of the most common methods known to get rid of the bitterness in eggplant. This process helps draw out the moisture in eggplants and lessens their bitterness.

Cut or slice the eggplant into your desired shape and size, then sprinkle a generous amount of salt over the eggplant pieces. Leave it for about 30-60 minutes, then gently rinse it off and drain before cooking.

After salting, the eggplant will look less spongy as the salt helps take out the excess liquid and caves in the air pockets making the pieces firmer. This process can also help the eggplant absorb less oil while cooking them.

Soaking Eggplant in Milk

Another method of taming the eggplant’s bitterness is soaking the pieces in milk.

After slicing the eggplant, soak the eggplant in milk for 30 minutes before cooking. Drain the milk off and prepare as normal.

As the eggplant absorbs the milk, it can make your eggplant more tender and creamier.

Removing the Eggplant Seeds

Remove the Seeds from Eggplant - What Makes Eggplants Bitter

Removing the seeds of the eggplants is another method to get rid of their bitter taste, especially if you don’t have the time to salt or soak them. If you have an older eggplant, the seeds hold in most of the bitterness.

Firstly, slice the eggplant lengthwise then scoop out or scrape out as many seeds as possible from the flesh. Then cut or slice them as needed.

Will Cooking an Eggplant Take Away the Bitterness?

Cooking can tame the bitter taste of the eggplant but it doesn’t totally get rid of it. It’s a rule of thumb though to properly cook eggplant as under-cooked eggplant may contribute to a bitter taste.

If you are cooking eggplant in soups or curries, the bitterness can be balanced out with the other ingredients and spices. However, in sautés, stir-fry, or grilled eggplants, the taste is focused and concentrated on the eggplant and the bitter taste is much more noticeable.

In this case, it’s ideal to prep it well, taking out as much moisture as possible from the eggplants before cooking them.

Storing Eggplants

Eggplant is different from other garden fruits and vegetables that can be stored for longer periods of time. To retain the quality and taste of the eggplant, it’s best to use eggplant right after harvest or after buying them.

If you want to store them, wrap them in a paper towel and store them in a container or plastic bag in the refrigerator and use them within 5-7 days. If the eggplants are really fresh, they can still be good for up to 3 weeks.

At room temperature, eggplant can be stored for 2-4 days.

Eggplant can also be frozen to last up to 6 months. It’s best to steam or blanch the eggplant first.

When to Toss and Discard Eggplant

Old Eggplant - What Makes Eggplants Bitter
Old eggplant – skin is dull and starting to shrivel

Remember eggplant is best used when it’s freshly harvested. A few days after harvesting or buying the eggplants, they will start to deteriorate.

So check the eggplant before using it and discard any that have gone bad. Rotten ones will show rotting spots on the skin, it might smell a bit off and the texture can be soft and squishy.

Also, if the stem right above the cap is turning brown and developing mold, it’s time to toss out your eggplant.

You can also try to cut the eggplant, if the flesh turns brown right away, or it’s slightly slimy, it’s best to discard it.

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Further reading:

What Makes Eggplants Bitter and how to fix it