By Diane Huntrods, AgMRC, Iowa State University.
Revised July, 2014 by Linda Naeve, Extension Program Specialist, Iowa State University.
An estimated 156.3 million pounds of eggplants were grown in the United States in 2012 (Yearbook ERS 2013). About 98 percent of the eggplant grown in the U.S. is produced for the fresh market, with the remainder used for processed products such as frozen entrees and specialty dips and appetizers (Outlook 2012).
The eggplant (Solanum melongena) was first grown some 4,000 years ago in India and Pakistan. Thomas Jefferson, who grew eggplant in his garden at Monticello, is thought to have originally introduced the plant to the United States.
Eggplant, or aubergine as it is known in some parts of the world, reportedly received its name in the past when white, egg-shaped varieties were more common. Although considered a vegetable, eggplant is actually, botanically speaking, a fruit related to the potato, tomato and bell pepper.
The USDA has not collected complete domestic production statistics for eggplant since 2001. The leading states in eggplant production continues to be New Jersey, California, New York,
U.S. eggplant consumption has trended higher over the past five decades. Between 2005-2012, per person use of eggplant rose to 0.9 pound (ERS 2013). The more rapid growth in the past decade may reflect the introduction of new processed products plus increased interest in following a vegetarian diet. Increases in both domestic production and import volume have each played key roles in supporting increased U.S. eggplant demand over the past decade.
Eggplant is available in a variety of colors (for example, purplish black, red, white and variegated) and shapes (for example, egg-shaped, elongated and round). Most commercial varieties in the U.S. are purplish black in color and usually oval or teardrop in shape. Less commonly produced varieties include Asian eggplants, which tend to be long and slender, and baby, or miniature, eggplants.
Eggplant, a warm-season crop, is grown primarily from transplants in the United States to reduce the growing season (seeded crops require as long as 150 days to mature). The large, vigorous plants can yield as many as four to six fruits at the peak of the season.
World production of eggplant is highly concentrated, with 84 percent of output coming from two countries: China and India. (Yearbook ERS 2013)
Many value-added products can be made from this vegetable. Canning, pickling and processing are some of the industrial operations producers can perform on eggplant. At home, eggplant can be prepared in many ways, including fried, broiled, grilled, microwaved, baked, stewed, pureed, breaded and pickled. In addition to serving as a meat substitute in dishes such as Italian eggplant parmesan, eggplant is used in traditional ethnic dishes such as Greek moussaka and French ratatouille and in appetizers such as Middle Eastern baba ghanoush, a popular dip, and various pureed eggplant spreads.
Export and Import
U.S. exports of fresh eggplants totaled 23.4 MT in 2012, and were valued at $13.7 million (FAS 2013). As with most U.S. fresh vegetables, the majority of fresh eggplants are exported to Canada (FAS 2010). According to the USDA (Yearbook 2013), about 7 percent of the eggplants grown in the United States are exported.
Despite a per person consumption rate of less than 1 pound, the United States imported a record 132 MT of eggplants in 2012, which were valued at $63.4 million. Mexico supplied more than 80 percent of that year's eggplant imports, followed by Canada (FAS 2013). More than half (53%) of the eggplant eaten in the United States is imported (Yearbook ERS 2013).
In eggplant skin, researchers have found 'nasunin,' a potent antioxidant and free radical scavenger that protects cell membranes from damage. Nasunin protects the lipids (fats) in brain cell membranes. In addition, numerous vitamins and minerals, such as B1, B6, folate, copper, manganese, potassium and about 10 percent of the daily value of fiber, are loaded in one cup of the skin and fleshy texture.
Eggplant, Vegetables and Melons Outlook, Economic Research Service (ERS), USDA, 2012.
Eggplants, Vegetables, Potatoes, and Melons Harvested for Sale: 2007 and 2002, 2007 Census of Agriculture, NASS, USDA, 2013.
Global Ag Trade System, Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), USDA.
Vegetables and Melons Yearbook, ERS, USDA.
Developed August 2007 and updated July 2014.
Links checked July 2014.