The Nightshade Family: Tomato, Capsicums, Eggplant, and Others

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About
This remarkable plant family includes several of the world’s most popular vegetables as well as tobacco and deadly nightshade; in fact it was the tomato’s resemblance to nightshade that slowed its acceptance in Europe. Members of the nightshade family share the habit of stockpiling chemical defenses, usually bitter alkaloids. Many generations of selection and breeding have reduced these defenses in most edible nightshade fruits, though their leaves are often still toxic. There’s one nightshade defense that humans have fallen in love with: the pungent capsaicins of the chilli “peppers.” Chillis are the most popular spice in the world; their pungency is discussed in chapter 8. In this section I’ll describe the milder capsicums that are eaten as vegetables.