Bitter Eggplant (Likok)
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Similar in shape and color to the cluster eggplant, the small, round eggplant known as Likok or Indian nightshade is roughly half an inch in diameter with smooth, yellowish-green skin. The meaty flesh is white to off-white and contains tiny edible seeds embedded in the flesh. As its nickname ‘bitter eggplant’ eludes, Likok has an acerbic taste. Likok eggplant grows on blade like stems that sport thorny branches which have served as a protective survival element of the plant for centuries.
Likok is available in the spring and early summer months in Northern India.
Likok as it is called in the Northern Indian states of Nagaland or Assam, is a bitter eggplant variety. The taxonomy of this variety is hard to determine due to the similarity between multiple species of similar-looking nightshade fruits. Botanically known as Solanum indicum, the small yellowish-green eggplants can also be classified as Solanum lasiocarpum or Solanum xanthocarpum. Known locally as Indian nightshade, Bush tomato or Yellow-berried nightshade, the fruit is popular in both the cuisine of the area and in Ayurvedic medicine.
In Ayurvedic medicine, Likok is used for the treatment of asthma and colic. The fruit is also used in treatments of rheumatism and to aid in digestion. Both the roots and fruit are considered to be part of Dashamoola a group of plants known for their anti-inflammatory properties. The fruit in particular is known for its ability to strengthen the throat and treat repository disorders.
The Likok is sought after for its petite size and bitter flavor profile and can be used in both raw and cooked preparations. It is popularly used in chutneys, mixed with onions and spices. Its bitter taste can be offset by spices and other vegetables, or with the addition of coconut milk in curries. Likok is often pickled in vinegar with a variety of seasonings. They can also be added to stir-fries, soups and stews. When cooked whole caution should be taken when eating the eggplants as they easily retain heat and can burst in the mouth and cause burns. The petite eggplants ideally should be kept in a cool, dry place prior to use and used within two to three days of harvesting for best flavor and texture.
In addition to its vast array of uses in Ayurvedic medicine Likok is used by the Indian tribes of the Nilgiris District topically in treatment of finger abscesses.
The Bitter Likok eggplant is known in Hindi as Green Brinjals, Bijil, Badi Kateri or Vanabhanta and is closely related to the wild cluster eggplant and Thai eggplant. Believed to be native to Asia varieties of Likok can be found growing wild in Sri Lanka, Nepal, China, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Afghanistan and India where it is primarily sold as a valuable indigenous vegetable on a local market level.