By Harold McGee
Eggplants are the only major vegetable in the nightshade family that came from the Old World. An early ancestor may have floated from Africa to India or Southeast Asia, where it was domesticated, and where small, bitter varieties are still appreciated as a condiment. Arab traders brought it to Spain and north Africa in the Middle Ages, and it was eaten in Italy in the 15th century, in France by the 18th. (The etymology of aubergine mirrors this history; it comes via Spanish and Arabic from the Sanskrit name.) Thanks to its tropical origins, the eggplant doesn’t keep well in the refrigerator; internal chilling damage leads to browning and off-flavors in a few days.