Choosing the Best Eggplant: Boy or Girl?

Do you know how to choose the best eggplant? Over the years as much as I’ve enjoyed eggplant, I have to admit sometimes the ones I bought and cooked tasted bitter. I tried different ways to take the bitter out, like salting down the slices very heavily and leaving them to sweat on towels for awhile, then washing the salt off, patting the slices dry like my Italian boss told me to do years ago, but the intermittent bitter eggplant was always a problem. Now maybe a lot of you are a lot smarter than I in these things, but until recently I never knew how to choose consistently good, not bitter, eggplants. Not so anymore.

When we were in Seattle at the famous Pike Street Market I happened to see a woman from one of the colorful veggie stalls in the middle of the sidewalk talking about eggplants. I wiggled my way into the other 20 or 30 other people gathered around eager to see what she had to say about eggplant. I’d never really thought about it before, and everything she said made sense. Like almost everything else Mother Nature designed, eggplants are either male or female.

Which one is best? If you’re a woman and reading this, chances are that you insisted the female is best, and vice-versa if you’re a man. Well ladies, my sentiments are more with you than men overall, but in this case it turns out the male is best. You see nature designed the females to be more in tune with reproducing seeds than in tasting good. So in the case of eggplant (and other fruits and veggies), more seeds are more likely to result in more babies to propagate the species.

Female eggplants, therefore, have more seeds. Seeds are bitter on purpose so as not to attract seed-eaters. I mean, life is hard enough for females of every kind without having to worry about a predators wanting you for your seeds, right?! As a rule, though not always, they tend to be a little more round than the male. Hey, is that a coincidence or what? Have I confused you yet? Need an example? Have a look as this:

See the one on the left? See how the bellybutton looks like a slit? While the one on the right has a definite round-shaped mark? Okay, the one on the left is the girl, the other one is a boy. Simple, right?

Not always. Some, like this one, are harder to tell than others. If you fish around in the bin, comparing as you check out different bellybuttons, you’ll find it easier to make a final decision, just as I did when making my choice.

See? These two are much easier to tell apart. Yep, that’s the female on the left and the male on the right. Soooooooo, we’ll just leave the little lady there to incubate her seeds or let some other shopper take her home.

Not convinced yet? Proof, as they say, of the pudding Errrrr, here’s the proof. This is the boy we choose, and consumed last night in a wonderful eggplant parmigiano. Hardly any seeds at all. If you’re already expert in all these things and still reading, thanks for humoring me and finished the post. For you others who haven’t been subjected to an eggplant lecture before, bon appetit! And remember to leave a few boys for me, okay?

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52 thoughts on “Choosing the Best Eggplant: Boy or Girl?

  1. What fun. Sadly, it makes me ill. But I have an eggplant with meatball and cheese recipe I used to make that will guarantee a heart attack. :) Boys….if I am ever not allergic, I will buy boys. :)

  2. Mage, does this mean you’re going to be checking out the eggplants next time you’re in the grocery store? Lifting them up and checking their bellybuttons? Sorry you’re allergic.

    Colleen and Anna, you’re quite welcome. I was quite enthralled learning this too. But having checked it out myself, it looks legit.

  3. I have had my head down sewing for the past week. I am so glad I lifted it enough to find this post. Thanks for the info and the lesson.

  4. I’ll be darn. Learn something new every day. And today it was the sex life of eggplants……lol I didn’t know any of this, by the way and I’ll think about it next time I’m eating some eggplant parm.

  5. I’m so glad you looked up a spell too, Grannymar! I’ve missed you. After reading your comment this morning I was down in my sewing room ironing and looking wistfully at the quilt squares hanging there neglected. I need to get back to sewing soon too!

    Terri, do think of me when you’re eating and thinking about the sex life of eggplants in the future. Good to hear from you. Thanks.

  6. Grew only the Japanese kind when I lived in Vegas, knowing that there were almost no seeds. Made and canned jars and jars of Italian caponata each year. Now , living in California and learned about male/female regular eggplants, will give it a try. I can have my favorite caponata again. Thanks, Alice.

  7. Um, but what’s the point of male and female when it comes to fruit. I’m so confused.

    I will, however, start checking bellybuttons in future :)

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  9. This was especially interesting to read about. I’ll be sure to make my own comparison next time I cook eggplant though. Is seedless really better though, from a health perspective?

  10. Hello Mr. Healthy, no I’m sure that one is no better than another except taste wise, and that may be personal taste as well. In fact, an old boss of mine who’s Sicilian told me that his mother always sliced eggplant and salted it down
    heavily and lay it on towels to “sweat” the bitterness out. Then she’d rinse all the salt off before cooking.I tried that and worked just fine, it’s just that I don’t always know what I’m having for dinner until hours before (lack of organization) and don’t have the time to devote to it.

    Remember, Vince’s mama was real Italiana from the old country. I’m sure she knew a thing or two about cooking.
    One interesting observation, somebody must be spreading the word because lately when I go to the eggplant bin to choose my eggplant, mostly all that’s left are females. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  11. I’ve known about the differnce forever, but so many of the oblate ones ive grown the last few years exibit no sign of a belly button and are smooth.
    I say for certain, maybe they were hybrid seed….? and all males….? I really haven’t had luck on selling the longer ones at markets, are they any better…?

    • I’m not so familiar with the term “oblate” Steve, at least in regards to eggplants, ‘though a little research turns up the smaller circumference longer varieties, such as the Japanese and other Asian varieties, which I have never found to be bitter. The ones more available in the neighborhood markets tend to be the shorter, more round on one end that the other type, and usually it’s easy to detect an oblong belly button versus the more round one. You could be right in your assumption that those were or are grown from hybrid seed. If that’s the case, however, I’m surprised you don’t sell longer ones at market. I always buy the longer ones if they’re available and have had very good luck with them. I learn something new every day, however. I’ll keep my eye out for more news about oblate varieties. Thanks for your comment.

  12. Loved this, my friend told a group of us about this over dinner last night. this morning she sent us the blog. wonderful to learn something new especially when it is so useful. will have to look up your recipe for Parmigiano, is it posted? kathy

  13. I’m glad you liked it, Kathy. I assumed it was legitimate since I learned it from a food professional in the fresh market. As for a recipe, I don’t think I’ve posted one, but my favorite is a seat o’the pants version where I simply slice the eggplant, coat in flour, then in whipped egg mixture, then in a plate of Panko bread crumbs (the ones used for tempuras in Japanese restaurants) that are now available in most grocery stores and pan fried. (Blot as much oil out as possible.) I put a couple of tablespoons of either homemade or canned tomato sauce on the bottom of a large baking pan, place a layer of crumbed eggplant slices, a healthy dousing of sauce, then some shredded mozzarella & parmagiana cheese, another layer of eggplant, etc., until everything is used up, and topped last by a nice bit of the cheeses, and bake at around 375 for as long as it takes for a nicely brown top and sauce bubbles.

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  15. Thank you for the wonderful information. I try to always buy the light weight eggplants as they have less seeds. I suppose it is the male eggplant.
    Very interesting.

  16. I just picked my first eggplant to make eggplant parmesan. I was just looking on the food network for a great recipe and while reading some of the reviews I came across male or female eggplant, WHAT! Thus that began my search; is this true male and female eggplant. Thanks to your blog I have learn something new and guess which one I pick…. A MALE. Thank God my first eggplant parmesan will not be bitter. YEA! Thanks for the info.

  17. Our recipe is quite close to yours. The main differences are that we add Italian seasoning (or equal parts of basil, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, and thyme, and 1/2 part granulated garlic) to the breadcrumbs, and we bake the eggplant rounds until slightly browned rather than frying them. Oh, yeah, we also do not use the salt method at all –baking it leaves it just right as far as moisture and lack of bitterness.

    We usually buy quite a bit of eggplant at a time if they’re nice, and we prepare them all at once.

    Once baked, we let them cool on a rack, then we wrap them in waxed paper in groups of 3 large or 4 smallish ones side-by-side, then place four of those packs (14 rounds) inside a bag and vacuum seal it. That’s enough eggplant for a recipe that makes about 4 large servings (use a 9″ square pan, place the largest 5 rounds first on the corners and middle, then use two smaller rounds cut in half to fill in the gaps along the sides; do two layers).

    They freeze very well, and keep for a long time. Just make sure you don’t squish them while they’re still soft — they’re a lot hardier once they’re frozen.

    Having the frozen packs makes it so easy to make Eggplant Parmigiana!

  18. Hey guys & girls,

    I can’t stop laughing. Beleive me, there is nothing like male & female brinjal.

    “Male” and “female” eggplant is a case of unfortunate terminology. “Vegetables,” such as eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers and squash, are – botanically speaking – really fruits. The fruits themselves can’t be considered “male or female.” Male pollen was transferred to female parts of the flower, resulting in the fruit we eat. Different varieties of eggplant may be more bitter and contain more noticeable seeds than others. Also, as an eggplant fruit matures, the seeds become more noticeable. So an eggplant picked when very mature to over-mature might appear “seedier” than others picked when less mature, even those from the same plant. Pick eggplant fruits when full size is reached but while the exterior is still a glossy purple. Once the exterior becomes dull purple, the eggplant fruit is over-mature. (Source: Robert Cox, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Horticulture, Jefferson County.)

    Eggplants have a dimple at the blossom end. The dimple can be very round or oval in shape. The round ones seem to have more seeds and tend to be less meaty, so select the oval dimpled eggplant.

    Smaller, immature eggplants are best. Full-size puffy ones may have hard seeds and can be bitter. Choose a firm, smooth-skinned eggplant that is heavy for its size; avoid those with soft or brown spots. Gently push with your thumb or forefinger. If the flesh gives slightly but then bounces back, it is ripe. If the indentation remains, it is overripe and the insides will be mushy. If there is no give, the eggplant was picked too early. Also make sure an eggplant isn’t dry inside, knock on it with your knuckles. If you hear a hollow sound, don’t buy it. NOTE: Whether or not there is an appreciable difference, I don’t know.

    Hope this solves the mystery & confusion. Have a happy eating.

    I am a Product manager of Brinjal at one of the largest seeds company in India. Professionally qualified – as Msc in Agriculture.

  19. “Male” and “female” eggplant is a case of unfortunate terminology. “Vegetables,” such as eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers and squash, are – botanically speaking – really fruits. The fruits themselves can’t be considered “male or female.” Male pollen was transferred to female parts of the flower, resulting in the fruit we eat. Different varieties of eggplant may be more bitter and contain more noticeable seeds than others. Also, as an eggplant fruit matures, the seeds become more noticeable. So an eggplant picked when very mature to over-mature might appear “seedier” than others picked when less mature, even those from the same plant. Pick eggplant fruits when full size is reached but while the exterior is still a glossy purple. Once the exterior becomes dull purple, the eggplant fruit is over-mature. (Source: Robert Cox, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Horticulture, Jefferson County.)

    However, it is folk wisdom worth some attention. Eggplants have a dimple at the blossom end. The dimple can be very round or oval in shape. The round ones seem to have more seeds and tend to be less meaty, so select the oval dimpled eggplant.
    Source: Ron Wolford, Extension Educator-Urban Horticulture & Gardening, and Drusilla Banks, Extension Educator-Nutrition and Wellness, University of Illinois

    Purchasing Eggplant: Smaller, immature eggplants are best. Full-size puffy ones may have hard seeds and can be bitter. Choose a firm, smooth-skinned eggplant that is heavy for its size; avoid those with soft or brown spots. Gently push with your thumb or forefinger. If the flesh gives slightly but then bounces back, it is ripe. If the indentation remains, it is overripe and the insides will be mushy. If there is no give, the eggplant was picked too early. Also make sure an eggplant isn’t dry inside, knock on it with your knuckles. If you hear a hollow sound, don’t buy it.

    Hope this info helps…

    Product Manager – Brinjal, Mahyco, India

    • Appreciate your comments. I’m sure your information is good information with a great deal of study around it. Sorry I haven’t been able to get around to moderating comments for several days as I’m in the middle of a chemo treatment and unable to focus on blogging. I wrote this post based on information I got at a fresh vegetable market in Seattle, Washington. While it may not be scientific, it has guided me well in getting more consistent results when buying eggplants. I grew up on a farm, although we did not grow eggplants in the south those days, and I do appreciate that ALL vegetables are far better when harvested at younger stages, resisting the bitterness that comes in many of those overgrown veggies that is mostly what the consumer in a state in the dessert southwest where I live has to choose from. Thank you for your interest, and taking the time to comment. And thanks for the purchase tips.

  20. “Male” and “female” eggplant is a case of unfortunate terminology. “Vegetables,” such as eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers and squash, are – botanically speaking – really fruits. The fruits themselves can’t be considered “male or female.” Male pollen was transferred to female parts of the flower, resulting in the fruit we eat. Different varieties of eggplant may be more bitter and contain more noticeable seeds than others. Also, as an eggplant fruit matures, the seeds become more noticeable. So an eggplant picked when very mature to over-mature might appear “seedier” than others picked when less mature, even those from the same plant. Pick eggplant fruits when full size is reached but while the exterior is still a glossy purple. Once the exterior becomes dull purple, the eggplant fruit is over-mature. (Source: Robert Cox, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Horticulture, Jefferson County.)

    However, it is folk wisdom worth some attention. Eggplants have a dimple at the blossom end. The dimple can be very round or oval in shape. The round ones seem to have more seeds and tend to be less meaty, so select the oval dimpled eggplant.
    Source: Ron Wolford, Extension Educator-Urban Horticulture & Gardening, and Drusilla Banks, Extension Educator-Nutrition and Wellness, University of Illinois

    Purchasing Eggplant: Smaller, immature eggplants are best. Full-size puffy ones may have hard seeds and can be bitter. Choose a firm, smooth-skinned eggplant that is heavy for its size; avoid those with soft or brown spots. Gently push with your thumb or forefinger. If the flesh gives slightly but then bounces back, it is ripe. If the indentation remains, it is overripe and the insides will be mushy. If there is no give, the eggplant was picked too early. Also make sure an eggplant isn’t dry inside, knock on it with your knuckles. If you hear a hollow sound, don’t buy it.

    Hope this info helps…

    Product Manager – Brinjal, Mahyco, India

    bye.

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  22. I was always confused on which eggplant to purchase. After ready this my worries are gone finally. I’m an Eggplant-ahollic. I would eat it 24-7 if I could. Now I know which ones to pick and I won’t have to soak them in saltwater to get the bitterness out. THANKS!!
    Anyone feel free to e-mail me with any other veggie tips ;-)

    • I’ve had great luck with this method of choosing so far, although there are some online sources that debunk it.

  23. I never thought I’d be lookin for the sex or belly buttons on Egg Plants. I came to see if Egg Plants were a Fruit of a Veggie. I heard they wernt eather. (a nooter) And to find out where they were at a Sale Price today. I’m still wondering. But I’m certainly going to Pick out The Boys Now Thanks.

    • Well Randy, I only followed the advice of the fresh food stall lady at the Seattle Market. If I’m wrong, she’s wrong too, but I still get consistently good results looking for boys. Happy belly button poking!

  24. So, why dosen’t anyone know another way other than the Italian Parmasan way? I am of a Romainian decent. Born in Hollywood California. And have my Great Grandmothers way of making Eggplant. I tend to eat too much Cheese anyway. A more Dietetic way. I Bake or BBQ my Eggplants whole. (keeping the Juice from Leaking out. Then scrape out the Purple Shell. It Peals easy, and drain well. Crush up all the Good Ol Ugly Eggplant. Add Chopped Onion, and Oil. I say Olive oil, my Mom thinks Olive Oil is too strong Tasting. I don’t agree. Then Salt and Pepper to tast, and Refrigerate. It’s so easy. I LOVE it on a Piece of Egg Bread, or any bread, with a Slice of Fresh Tomato, lettus or, added to a Salid, like yould would serve a scoop or Tuna,or chicken salid. I was brought up on this, and make it every chance I see Eggplants on sale. Europians seem to like it right away. But it takes some people a while to get develope a Taste for it. It’s rather Grey Color, turns some off. I suggest everybody try it this way, I LOVE IT.Randy

    • Actually, since my Hubby is of Indian descent, we (I should say “he”) cook(s) eggplant another way that sounds similar to your Romanian way, which I may try soon by the way, as I’m always on the lookout for something new in the veggie line. It’s Baingan Bharta (or eggplant curry) and you can find a recipe athttp:// allrecipes.com//Recipe/baingan-bharta-eggplant-curry/Detail.aspx

    • Hi Randy,

      When you bake your eggplant whole, what temperature and for how long gets it done correctly?

      Thanks! :)

    • Hey, Randy..
      To tempt your european friends try roasting a red bell pepper with the eggplant then mush up the pepper with the eggplant, salt, oil, etc. It adds a slightly mild flavor and changes the color enough to make europeans think it’s a gourmet special. Me, I’ll take eggplant any way I can get it.

      • A red Bell Pepper sounds like something I’ll Try. I once tried to add Garlic. (I love Garlic) But it Mucked up the Onion. I like the crunch of the Onion. I’m thinking not roasted Bell, raw right? Cut finely, I’m guessing. I am so Jazzed that I’m sharing cooking stuff, with someone so Far from me, here in California USA. call me Old Fashioned. God Bless all you Dishes.And you :)

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  27. wish I had known this when I made my first eggplant parmigiana. It was so bitter we ended up having to throw it away and the bitter aftertaste was torture.

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  29. I am happy to find out that Allan and I are not alone in forgetting to take our meds. I thought it was age.
    I started to ask you how to tell the difference between she and he. Well, I looked over your recipe again and lo and behold,, there was the answer.

    Can’t wait to try this I love eggplant anyway, any style. This looks delicious.

    About your weight. I am sure you are the only one who notices it.

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  31. There are many things wrong about this entry. There is no such thing as a male or female fruit. Fruits don’t even have sex organs. The seeds develop into the plant and all plants have both sets of sex organs.

    Secondly, the seeds are not bitter to deter “seed eaters”. Fruits have evolved to be eaten. That’s why they taste good (most of the eggplant has an enjoyable taste). Animals eat the fruit, leave the tree and poop out the seeds somewhere else. That’s the point of fruit: to be eaten.

    There may be something to this trick of identifying the fruits with less seeds (“male”), but I have my doubts. The reason that it is not easily performed is because there isn’t just two types; there is a full spectrum of belly buttons in between the slit and the round shapes.

    • Burton, it’s been several years since I wrote that post, so I had to go back and re-read it. I should point out a couple of things. First, I was passing along information I got from a spokeswoman in a very popular fresh veggie market in Seattle. I was interested, came home and tried my own test, and it worked–or at face value it seemed to. I’ve used this method to choose my eggplants ever since and have been consistently pleased with my choices. There are other things I look for as well, such as firmness, size, etc., which may have worked in my favor as well. It doesappear that I present this information as “fact” and I have nothing other than my own experience to back me up, certainly nothing scientific, and if it does seem as if I’m presenting myself as “expert”, then I’m sorry. I think that may be because I was trying to pass along my experience in as creative a fashion as possible. I’ve seen several others–more learned than me–cast doubt since. While they may be technically right, I still stand by what I wrote, as it has worked well for me. You can choose your eggplants your way, I’ll choose mine my way. Thanks for taking the time to offer your view.

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  33. This was so helpful and informative! I have an eggplant in the fridge right now and I’m so glad it’s a boy! Now I’m really excited to eat him! lol, that just sounds wrong.

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