Eggplant comes in different varieties that produce fruits in varying sizes.
As part of the nightshade family, you’ll find this nutrient-rich fruit used in numerous dishes across the globe.
When to harvest eggplant? Eggplants are relatively easy to grow in home gardens, which is why it is often among the first crops of beginners. As a rule of thumb, you must harvest eggplants when they are still in their unripe stage. One clear sign of their readiness is their dark purple and glossy skin.
How Do You Know When Your Eggplant Is Ready to Harvest?
Eggplants need warmth to develop; thus, some home gardeners start seeds indoors before transplanting outside to warm soil.
Once transplanted, eggplant bushes need full sun to thrive and grow, producing five to six fruits in one plant.
Since it comes in different varieties, it is hard to determine its readiness based on its size alone.
It usually takes 16 to 24 weeks for the eggplant to mature after planting.
You should start harvesting within this time frame to avoid overripe and bitter-tasting fruit.
More often than not, it is ready for picking once you notice that the skin is smooth and glossy and has a vibrant color.
If you press a finger on the eggplant and it did not spring back, it means that it has the right tenderness perfect for picking.
Whatever eggplant variety you choose to grow, harvest the small and tender ones with smooth and glossy skin.
You should only ripen the eggplant off its bush if you need seed production for planting in the future.
How to Harvest Eggplant?
Edible eggplants have cream-colored flesh and barely visible seeds once you cut them up.
This is a standard that vegetable gardening beginners refer to.
Considering the ripeness indicators mentioned earlier, you can avoid cutting up the eggplant to confirm its readiness.
Once you have established the eggplant’s ripeness, you can now prepare for harvest.
Here’s how to do it:
Step 1: Gather your tools and wear the right clothing.
There is only one way to harvest the eggplant: using a sharp knife or pruning shears to ensure you don’t damage the fruit.
Also, putting on a pair of gardening gloves will help protect your hands from the thorns on the eggplant’s cap and stem.
With it, you can keep your gloved hand safe from the sharp knife or shears you use during harvest.
A long-sleeved shirt will also prevent skin irritations.
Step 2: Cut each fruit off.
Using your non-dominant hand, hold and slightly raise the eggplant to expose the stem attached to the cap.
Next, cut the eggplant by its stem with a pair of sharp pruning shears or a knife, leaving at least an inch above the cap.
Eggplants have thick and stiff stems that will not yield through pulling and twisting, which is why harvesting requires a sharp cutting tool.
What Happens If You Don’t Harvest Eggplant?
Eggplants ripen quickly; therefore, they require constant monitoring so that you’re able to harvest them at the right time.
The best-tasting eggplants are the smaller ones in-between underripe and overripe.
Also, harvesting eggplants frequently encourages the plant to produce and develop more fruits.
If you allow the fruit to fully mature before harvesting, you will get a bitter eggplant with large seeds and tough skin.
Remember that eggplants grow faster in a warm climate and slower in cooler weather.
What’s more, the harvesting schedule will depend on the eggplant variety you planted and your area’s growing zone.
Should You Wash Eggplant After Harvesting?
You can eat the entire eggplant, including the skin, as long as you harvested it on time to prevent the bitter taste.
It is always safe to wash the fruit with clean running water before slicing, as it absorbs moisture fast.
Cleaning the eggplant also ensures that you get rid of all the skin impurities from the soil or pests while growing.
Next, dry it with a paper towel right after washing and remove the stem of the eggplant as you clean it as it is not edible.
Also, do not cut or peel eggplants before storing them because they will perish faster when the flesh is exposed.
Some cooks like to soak the sliced eggplants in a bowl of a saltwater bath to enhance their flavor.
Afterward, they put the bowl inside the refrigerator for three hours or more.
The eggplants are then drained, rinsed, and pat dried before using them for their recipe.
Can You Eat Eggplant Immediately After Harvesting?
There are some fruits and vegetables you can eat fresh and raw. All they need is a thorough washing beforehand.
Similarly, you can eat a cleaned and washed raw eggplant but expect a small amount of bitter taste and a spongy texture.
There was an earlier misconception about the eggplant being poisonous when eaten raw, but it was not valid.
Keep in mind that eggplant leaves are not for eating, as they contain the alkaloid solanine toxin that may cause poisoning.
How to Store Eggplant?
Eggplants are free of cholesterol, fat, and sodium. They also have low-calorie levels and are a good supplier of dietary fiber.
However, you cannot store eggplants for long periods.
Here are three safe storage techniques you can try:
Storing at Room Temperature
If you want to store eggplants at room temperature, place the uncut fruit inside a paper bag.
You can also wrap it in paper towels before putting it in a vented bowl.
Store multiple eggplants together as long as you wrap them individually, allowing them to breathe and prevent moisture.
Eggplants do not thrive well in extreme temperatures, so keep them in a room with temperatures between 50- and 54-degrees Fahrenheit.
Also, be careful when storing eggplants with other fruits and vegetables that give off ethylene, like apples and potatoes, as they are sensitive to this gas.
Consider moving the ethylene-producing fruits and vegetables away from the eggplant to prevent premature ripening.
Lastly, stored eggplants at room temperature are best consumed within three days.
Otherwise, they become overripe for eating.
Storing in the Refrigerator
Of course, you can also store eggplants inside the refrigerator.
To do so, simply wrap the uncut eggplant in paper towels to help absorb moisture.
An open plastic container or a perforated plastic bag is also ideal when storing eggplants inside the refrigerator.
Most refrigerators come with a crisper drawer where you can store eggplants and other produce, keeping it away from moisture.
Consume eggplants stored in the fridge within three to five days to avoid spoilage.
Never store eggplants with bruises or discoloration, as this may mean that the flesh inside is damaged or decayed.
Freezing the Eggplant
The third and last storage option is by freezing after blanching or steaming.
First, wash the eggplants under cold running water to remove any impurities on their surface.
Then, cut a quarter of an inch from both ends of the eggplant and remove the skin using a vegetable peeler. You can also opt to keep the skin intact.
This storage method is best for ripe eggplants.
With a clean and sharp knife, slice the eggplant in uniformed sizes for easy cooking and storage.
Then, in a large pot, combine water and lemon juice to prevent any discoloration as you blanch the eggplants.
Blanching removes enzymes that cause the frozen eggplant to lose its flavor and change texture.
Next, allow the mixture to boil before dropping the eggplant slices and let them stay submerged for four minutes.
Remove the eggplant slices from the boiling mixture after four minutes and immediately transfer them to a bowl full of ice water.
Submerge the blanched eggplants for five minutes to stop the cooking process.
Then, drain the ice water and dry the slices with paper towels.
After pat drying the slices, put them inside freezer-safe, resealable plastic bags.
Remove all the air out of the bag before sealing it to preserve the eggplants longer.
Also, don’t forget to label the bag with the current date.
You can also wrap each slice with a small plastic sheet before putting them in a resealable bag.
This method will prevent the eggplant slices from sticking together when frozen.
Eat frozen eggplant slices within six months to get the best out of the preserved fruit.
If you have plans of using the frozen eggplants, remove them from the freezer and transfer them to the refrigerator to defrost.
The preserved eggplant is best used for dips, sauces, soups, and stews as freezing softens it over time.
Eggplant is a warm-season plant packed with dietary fibers and other nutrients.
Like most other plants that love the warmth, it is a perennial fruit that requires a steady supply of full sun and water.
You can expect a good harvest within 16 to 24 weeks when planted in a growing zone with an ideal climate.
It is best consumed fresh right after harvesting, but you can store it in three different ways and use it within three days up to six months.
Most important of all is that you know when to harvest your eggplant.
Avoid waiting too long to pick the fruit so that you can enjoy its nutritional benefits.