Nobody wants to chow down on rotten eggplant. But is a slightly overripe eggplant safe to eat? It is, but once eggplants ripen past their peak, they become increasingly bitter, so it's not the best idea. To ensure your eggplant Parmesan, eggplant lasagna, baba ganoush, ratatouille or other eggplant-based dish turns out tasty, it's important to know how to tell when eggplants are going bad. Also learn how to select good eggplants, how to properly store them and the shelf life you can expect.
When to Toss an Eggplant
If an eggplant's skin is getting withered and wrinkly, or if the fruit (yeah, eggplant is technically a fruit) is notably soft or squishy, or it just has soft spots anywhere, it's rotting. If the stem is browning or developing mold – or if there's mold anywhere else on it – it's also time to discard the eggplant. And is the eggplant brown inside? If it is when you cut into it, don't use it.
But keep in mind that eggplant flesh starts browning shortly after you cut it. That's due to a process called enzymatic browning, which is common in fruits and veggies (you've undoubtedly witnessed it when cutting apples or avocados, in peeled bananas, etc.). This browning doesn't look too appetizing, but it's safe to eat. So, pay attention to whether the eggplant's meat is already brown as soon as you slice it.
How to Select Ripe Eggplant
Look for eggplants that have vibrant, shiny, smooth, taut skin that's uniform in color as well as green, healthy-looking stems that aren't dried out, decaying or moldy. When you spot a candidate, pick it up; it should feel heavy for its size and firm, but not so rock-hard that it doesn't give with a bit of pressure. Inspect the eggplant for mold, soft spots, bruises, cuts or other damage.
Also, large eggplants may be a little more bitter than smaller ones. That's not because of ripeness, but just because the bigger they are, the more seeds they have. Seeds are the main source of bitterness in eggplants. However, remember that they also start getting increasingly bitter after they peak in ripeness.
Eggplant Storage and Shelf Life
There's some debate as to whether it's better to store eggplant at room temperature or in the refrigerator. It's a tropical plant and somewhat sensitive to cold, so room temperature seems to make more sense. Eggplants typically hold up for about three days at room temperature. They may last longer in the vegetable crisper in your fridge, but their taste and texture can still start to go downhill after three or four days.
Either way, they do need to breathe, so don't store whole eggplants in sealed containers or bags. While cold temperature aren't ideal, neither are hot temperatures. If your kitchen tends to get hot, protect eggplants by storing them in a cabinet or pantry away from the range. Also, don't keep them too close to bananas, tomatoes, melons or other fruit that gives off significant amounts of ethylene while ripening, as this accelerates an eggplant's decline.
It's better not to pre-cut raw eggplant and store it. It browns quickly, and even tricks like squirting it with lemon juice that works on other produce won't help much with eggplant.
How to Freeze Eggplant
To extend the storage life of raw eggplant, freeze it. It must be blanched first; otherwise, it still discolors and loses quality in taste and texture. To blanch an eggplant:
- Bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat.
- Lightly salt the water or add 1/4 cup of lemon juice per 8 cups of water.
- Fill a large bowl with ice water and place it next to the stove.
- Uniformly slice a few pieces of eggplant at a time to blanch them without losing the boil and so that waiting slices don't start browning; put them in the boiling water.
- Boil the eggplant for about 4 to 5 minutes, until just soft to the center.
- Remove the slices with a slotted spoon or tongs and shock them by submerging them in the ice bath right away to stop further cooking.
- Repeat until you've blanched all the eggplant; re-ice the cold water as needed.
To freeze the eggplant, dry it completely. If you have a vacuum sealer, use that to package it. Otherwise, press out as much air as you can when sealing the freezer bag. For the best quality, use frozen raw or cooked eggplant within a year from freezing.
Eric Mohrman is a food and drink, lifestyle, and travel writer living in Orlando, Florida. He spent 10 years working front- and back-of-house in restaurants, adding professional experience to his love of eating and cooking. His stories on food and beverage topics have appeared in numerous print and web publications, including Visit Florida, Orlando Style Magazine, CrushBrew Magazine, Agent Magazine, Dollar Stretcher Magazine, The 863 Magazine and others.