Here's an eggplant fact you won't find on Wikipedia: At least three full-time food writers (this one included) suffer from an allergy to the vegetable.
Eggplant allergies are somewhat common. Even in India, ranked the second top producer of eggplants in the world, almost 10 percent of people report experiencing allergy symptoms after eating eggplant.
While eaters may be allergic to egg-plant flower pollen, eggplant histamines or certain proteins found in the vegetable, the symptoms are generally similar: mild headache, itchy tongue, upset stomach. Who knew moussaka could be so mean?
But if medical issues don't preclude it, eating eggplant is an excellent idea. Here, seven things to know before diving in:
1. Eggplant is native to India, but Chinese farmers were the first to cultivate the plant. It took almost 2,000 years for eggplant to reach Italy, the European nation most strongly associated with the vegetable. A few centuries later, in 1746, a Neapolitan chef suggesting preparing it with butter, herbs and grated Parmesan cheese, before smothering the eggplant with cream sauce and sticking it in the oven. But Clifford A. Wright, author of “A Mediterranean Feast,” believes the first true recipe for modern eggplant parmesan, finished with tomato ragu, didn't appear in print until 1837.
2. Eggplants have enough heft to fool home cooks into thinking they're resilient. But the vegetable isn't as tough as it looks: It's extremely susceptible to both heat and cold. When storing eggplant, take care not to puncture its skin. Whole Foods' website warns that forcing an eggplant into a too-small crisper is risky. Instead, the store suggests, put the eggplant in a plastic bag and place it on a shelf. It will last for a few days.
3. According to a study released last month, Americans select the eggplant emoji more than phone users in any other country. The reason has nothing to do with nutrition: As Slate helpfully explained, the eggplant has displaced the banana as the nation's leading phallic symbol.
4. Eggplants are rich in minerals and vitamins, but they also contain more nicotine than any other plant eaten by humans. It takes 22 pounds of eggplants to equal the amount of nicotine found in a single cigarette, but a 10-gram serving is roughly equivalent to the nicotine exposure associated with spending three hours in the company of a smoker.
5. While it still registers as bitter, eggplant has shed much of its bitterness over the past few centuries. The flavor scared off many early Europeans, who believed eating eggplant could cause instant leprosy or insanity. Just like difficult people, eggplants become increasingly bitter as they age.
6. In the U.S., eggplants sort of look like eggs: Color aside, they're long and ovoid. But Asia and Africa are home to a variety of cultivars, including miniature eggplants, eggplants skinny as cucumbers and eggplants squat as pumpkins.
7. The biggest controversy surrounding eggplants concerns degorgement, which is the fancy term for salting produce to draw out moisture before preparing it. Chefs are deeply divided over whether the method improves an eggplant, degrades it or accomplishes nothing at all. The technique was first introduced as a way to remove supposedly bitter juices, but many salt backers say contemporary eggplants are naturally less bitter. Still, they claim the process will prevent the notoriously oil-attracting eggplant from taking on so much grease. Others believe removing excess water will help concentrate the eggplant's flavor. But opponents of the practice fret about oxidation, suggesting it's best to work with freshly cut eggplants.