Eggplant is a widely grown specialty vegetable in the United States. According to the 2007 Census of Agriculture (2009), eggplant was harvested on over 2,900 farms in 2007, an increase of over 690 farms since 2002. However, acreage declined to 6,038 acres during those five years.
An estimated 159.8 million pounds of eggplants were grown in 2010 (Yearbook ERS 2011). About 98 percent of the eggplant grown in the United States is produced for the fresh market, with the remainder used for processed products such as frozen entrees and specialty dips and appetizers (Outlook 2006).
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.
USDA has not collected complete domestic production statistics for eggplant since 2001. That year, eggplant production was valued at $42.5 million, and Georgia, Florida, California, New Jersey and New York were the top five producers of eggplant.
From winter 2007 to winter 2009, Florida’s average national market share for eggplants was 24 percent. California statistics for 2009 indicate that the state harvested more than 17,300 short tons of eggplants valued at $11.8 million (Yearbook ERS 2011).
U.S. eggplant consumption has trended higher over the past five decades. Between 2005-2010, per person use of eggplant rose to 0.9 pound (ERS 2011). 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 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 period by about half (seeded crops require as long as 150 days to mature). Long periods of cool weather during the growing season will reduce yields by causing flowers to drop. 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 83 percent of output coming from two countries: China and India. (Yearbook ERS 2011)
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 10.2 MT in 2010, down from 2009, and were valued at $11.3 million (FAS 2011). As with most U.S. fresh vegetables, the majority of fresh eggplants are exported to Canada (FAS 2010). According to the USDA (Yearbook 2011), about 8 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 64.3 MT of eggplants in 2010, which were valued at $64.4 million. Mexico supplied more than 80 percent of that year’s eggplant imports, followed by Canada (FAS 2011). More than half of the eggplant eaten in the United States is imported (Yearbook ERS 2011).
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.