The Rich History of Eggplant or Aubergine

Eggplants in the 14th Century

Eggplants in the 14th Century

An inter­est­ing web­site, Zester, explores the cul­ture of food and drink — includ­ing a range of dif­fer­ent spe­cies with poten­tial for exploit­a­tion, as well as recipes about cook­ing them. Hopefully it does not give too much encour­age­ment of wild col­lec­tion (Sept 17: see com­ment below) or unsus­tain­able fish­ing practices!

I was par­tic­u­larly inter­ested in an art­icle, “Eggplant’s Rich History: From ancient Arab diets to Sicilian recipes, the ver­sat­ile egg­plant has evolved around the globe”. Two papers in Annals of Botany provide a remark­able insight into the appear­ance of the earli­est eggplants/aubergines used as food, and the ways they were cul­tiv­ated. Amazingly, the first reli­able writ­ten record comes from China in 59 BC. From the sev­enth cen­tury, selec­tion for shape, size and taste became intense. See Ancient Chinese Literature Reveals Pathways of Eggplant Domestication for a sum­mary, or this link to the pdf for the fully illus­trated work,. Of course, the selec­tion and evol­u­tion pro­cess con­tin­ues today, with the most not­able improve­ment being the selec­tion of vari­et­ies without bit­ter­ness — the salt­ing before cook­ing which was essen­tial a dec­ade ago is unne­ces­sary with mod­ern varieties.

Eggplant from China

Eggplant/Aubergine from China

In Europe, the first writ­ten records come from a 14th cen­tury trans­la­tions of an 11th-century Arabic manu­script known as Taqwim al-Sihha bi al-Ashab al-Sitta, pro­duced in north­ern Italy. The Tacuinum Sanitatis is richly illus­trated and gives a win­dow on late medi­eval life and cul­tiv­a­tion of plants includ­ing egg­plants and we pub­lished the most won­der­ful pic­tures from it — See http://​aob​.oxford​journ​als​.org/​c​o​n​t​e​n​t​/​1​0​3​/​8​/​1​1​8​7​.​f​ull for the whole paper, or have a look here for just the pic­tures of egg­plants being grown and har­ves­ted from the 14th cen­tury.
Corn segregating 3:1 yellow:white from Zester

Corn segreg­at­ing 3:1 yellow:white from Zester

Meanwhile, back to Zester, and an art­icle gives a range of ways to cook corn/maize/Zea mays. I’m uncon­vinced that any is bet­ter than lightly boiled with but­ter. But the pic­ture high­light­ing the art­icle shows a hybrid line, not F1, but segreg­at­ing 3:1 for yel­low and white kernels/endosperm. I make it 444:149 . This month’s high­light issue of Annals of Botany on Genes in Evolution has lots more about the ori­gin of crops includ­ing maize, and the genet­ics behind evol­u­tion, some sum­mar­ized in my art­icle about genes in evol­u­tion and the genet­ics of spe­ci­ation and biod­iversity.

Genes in Evolution Cover

Genes in Evolution Cover

Editor Pat Heslop-Harrison. ORCID 0000-0002-3105-2167

Pat Heslop-Harrison is Professor of Molecular Cytogenetics and Cell Biology at the University of Leicester. He is also Chief Editor of Annals of Botany.

4 Responses

  1. More on har­vest­ing of wild plants:
    Sustainable wild plant har­vest­ing proves a global suc­cess
    15 September 2010 from IUCN:
    “Worldwide applic­a­tion of a new stand­ard for sus­tain­able har­vest­ing of wild medi­cinal, aro­matic, dye and food plants and trees is chart­ing new ways to pro­tect the spe­cies and their hab­it­ats and bene­fit the com­munit­ies that depend on them, accord­ing to a new report from world wild­life trade mon­it­or­ing net­work, TRAFFIC, a joint pro­gramme of IUCN and WWF — World Wildlife Fund

  2. Nature, 13 Sept 2010, has a News art­icle about look­ing at RNA (not the com­monly stud­ied DNA) in pre­served archae­olo­gical spe­ci­mens of crops — in this case maize 700 to 850 years old. RNA molecules could help to reveal plant breed­ing in action hun­dreds of years ago, show­ing nutri­tional prop­er­ties and other select­ive fea­tures. However, unlike the illus­tra­tions in the pub­lic­a­tions dis­cussed above, of sim­ilar age, the RNA ana­lysis says little about the appear­ance and cul­tiv­a­tion meth­ods of the early domest­ic­ated forms of the spe­cies.

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