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African eggplants of the Kumba group have a depressed globular shape with deep furrows and range from 5-15 centimeters in diameter. The fruit may be harvested green, white or even red, and the leaves are occasionally eaten as a sautéed vegetable as well. This variety is firm and bitter and best stewed or pickled.
African eggplants are available in the late summer and fall.
African eggplants are botanically classified as Solanum aethiopicum and also commonly known as Mock Tomato, Bitter Tomato, Ethiopian nightshade and Scarlet Eggplant. They range widely in color and shape depending upon the cultivar and are divided into four groups: Gilo, Shum, Kumba and Aculeatum. This particular variety of African eggplant is of the Kumba Group.
African eggplant leaves are rich on beta-carotene, ascorbic acid, iron and calcium. The fruits bitter taste is attributed to furostanol glycosides (saponins).
The leaves and young shoots of the African eggplant are just as important as the fruits themselves. Containing most of the plant’s nutritional value, they are used in soups, stews, sautés and even pickled. The inherent bitterness of the African eggplant is complimented by slightly sweet flavors, rich proteins and smoked meats. They take well to strong flavors of curry or long braises in a simple blend of oil and garlic. Pair the leaves and fruits in recipes that include nutty cheeses such as parmesan, ham, bacon, sausage, caramelized onions or mushrooms, sweet potatoes, beans and peanuts.
A similar eggplant variety found in Brazil is referred to as jiló, and often breaded in cornmeal and fried, like green tomatoes in American Southern cuisine.
African eggplants are grown predominantly in their native home of Africa, specifically in Central and West Africa. They have since been introduced into the Caribbean and South America and are even grown in some of the warmer climates of southern Italy.