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Cluster eggplant is quite unique in appearance to all other eggplant varieties. The fruits are small and round, about the size of a pea and no more than half an inch in width. As they ripen the fruits will turn from a light green hue to yellow. The petite fruits are arranged in clusters of ten to fifteen eggplants bunched together in a fashion similar to grapes. The fruits grow on shrubs that can reach up to sixteen feet in height. The stems and leaves of the Cluster eggplant are covered in fine hairs and small hooked prickles. The flowers of the plant are most often white though some varieties will produce purple blooms. The fruits each contain upwards of 200 tiny, flat, edible seeds. Fruits range in flavor from bitter to tart, a flavor which is minimized slightly by cooking. When raw their texture is exceptionally crunchy, once cooked they will take on a more tender texture.
Cluster eggplant is available year-round with a peak season during the summer months.
Cluster eggplant, scientifically known as Solanum torvum, is a loose western term that is given to the fruit of a prickly shrub that grows wild and semi-cultivated. It is one of the only eggplants that are thought to have little relation to the common domesticated eggplant, Solanum melongena. Also known as Pea eggplant, Wild eggplant and Turkey berry the Cluster eggplant is popularly used as root stock for growing more traditional eggplants as a way of boosting the heartiness of the root system and decreasing its susceptibility to diseases.
Cluster eggplant fruits can be dried and ground into medicine to treat a variety of ailments, specifically in India in the Siddha system of medicines. Caution should be taken to not pick Cluster eggplants when too immature as not yet ripe fruits may contain toxic glycoalkaloids which in some individuals can cause neurological and gastrointestinal distress.
The Cluster eggplant is sought after for its bitter flavor and used in both cooked and raw preparations. When fresh they are used popularly in preparation of Thai chili paste such as nam prik kapee, a chili and shrimp paste blend. The petite fruits are also commonly added to curries, soups and stews or tossed whole or chopped into stir-fries. They can be served raw with dipping sauces, pickled or dried. To cut their bitterness slightly Cluster eggplants can be boiled briefly prior to use. Caution should be taken when eating whole fruits that have been slow cooked as they tend to hold onto their heat and can burst in your mouth and cause burns. Cluster eggplants should be stored in a cool dry place and ideally used within two to three days of harvesting.
In Somalian and Cambodian cuisine the petite fruits of the Cluster eggplant are popularly used in stews. In Thailand the Cluster eggplant is known as Makhua Phuang and is a common plant to have growing in home gardens.
Cluster eggplant is native to Mexico, South America and Africa and is perhaps the closest relative to the wild eggplant ancestors of Africa, as all eggplants are descendants of spiny solanums of Africa. It is widely distributed throughout Africa and its neighboring islands with limited presence in Saudi Arabia. Cluster eggplant has blade like stems, thorny and prickly branches which have been a protective survival element of the plant that has survived centuries and even attempts at semi-domestication, which occurs in limited areas in Uganda and Côte d’Ivoire. Thus, it is primarily harvested from the wild and sold as a valuable indigenous vegetable on a local market level versus wide global distribution. It is believed that Cluster eggplant was first introduced to the United States as a potential food crop in 1899 and was naturalized in Florida by 1930. As a result of its growth style which forms dense thickets and can easily overtake other plant species it was in 1983 added to the United States federal noxious weed list.
Recipes that include Cluster Eggplant. One is easiest, three is harder.
|Nourish Me||Three Eggplant Curry|
|Eating Asia||Sambal Hijau with Rimbang|
|David Lebovitz||Thai Green Curry|
|Thai Table||Green Curry with Chicken - Gang Kiew Wan Gai|
|Pepper Fool||Chicken Curry with Potatoes and Thai Pea Eggplant|