Is It Safe to Eat Raw Eggplant?
Eggplants are a nutritional powerhouse and can be a terrific part of a healthy diet. They are low in calories and fat but are full of fiber as well as many vitamins and minerals like vitamins B6, C and K, and magnesium, potassium, folic acid, niacin and others. However, many of the popular methods for cooking eggplant might feel a little less nutritious—especially recipes that are traditionally fried in oil like eggplant Parmesan and eggplant moussaka. So, you may ask yourself, "can I eat eggplant raw?" A lot of people wonder if eggplant is poisonous raw because it's a member of the nightshade family of vegetables. Or they might think, "can eating raw eggplant make me sick?" Read on to find out. (Spoiler: everyone's going to be OK!)
Can You Eat Eggplant Raw?
Luckily, the answer is yes! While the leaves and flowers can be toxic, the eggplant itself is safe to consume both raw and cooked, and the compound that some might be sensitive to, solanine, is only toxic when consumed in large quantities. You would have to eat more than a dozen whole eggplants (at least!) in one sitting before reaching potentially toxic levels of solanine. (Read about solanine in sprouted potatoes for more information on the topic.) In fact, the compound can also be present in cooked eggplant. However, while it is present in eggplant that has been boiled, frying eggplant destroys solanine.
How to Eat Eggplant Raw
If you have been wondering about eating raw eggplant, you've likely noticed that there aren't a lot of recipes that call for eggplant to be eaten raw. While you can eat eggplant without cooking it, raw eggplant can taste a bit bitter, so it is usually not at the top of the list for recipe developers. But there are ways to mitigate the bitterness or make it work for you. For starters, choose smaller eggplants, or look for Asian varieties like Thai or Japanese eggplants, which tend to be less bitter than the conventional purple-black variety you might find more abundantly in your produce section. Then, be sure to peel them, because a lot of the bitterness is held in the peel. Finally, salt the peeled eggplants and let them drain to help remove some of the bitterness as well as the excess water, which will help with their texture and flavor.
Related: How to Cook Eggplant
Can You Eat Eggplant Raw in a Salad?
Absolutely. And this is a great place to use that raw eggplant, since it will soak up flavors and dressings. Try adding it to vegetable and grain salads with punchy dressings, like tabbouleh. Balance the bitterness with sweet ingredients like carrots, apples, ripe tomatoes and dried fruits, or with sweet dressings. If you are using raw eggplant in a salad with greens, avoid bitter greens like radicchio, endive or frisée, and go for leaves with a gentler flavor like Bibb lettuce, iceberg, romaine or Little Gem.
What Else Can I Do with Raw Eggplant?
Raw eggplant can be a great addition to dishes like a pasta with a raw sauce, where the heat of the noodles warms the other ingredients without cooking them. Add diced raw eggplant to diced raw tomato and cubed fresh mozzarella and toss with hot noodles and extra-virgin olive oil and garnish with fresh basil. You can also lean into its naturally meaty texture, and use it to bulk up dishes like Thai larb, mincing it fine and blending with the cooked ground pork, where it will absorb the dressing and add a pleasant bitterness while reducing the amount of meat needed.
Raw eggplant is underutilized and can be a fantastic addition to a variety of dishes, providing flavor and texture as well as stretching out the meat component in certain recipes. It's also relatively inexpensive and packs a wallop in the nutrition department. Don't be afraid. If you're not eating raw eggplant, it is worth a try—just avoid those eggplant leaves and flowers as they can be toxic.