Eggplant, Solanum melongena, a member of the Solanaceae family, like the tomato, the potato, and the deadly nightshade, originated in India. So it must have reached the Middle East through contact between Islamic and Indie cultures. The obvious vector for the eggplant diaspora was the Mughal (Persian) conquest of India in 1526, which connected India with the rest of the Muslim world. The ensuing migration of eggplant westward with the Arabs across Africa to Spain can be tracked linguistically, beginning with Hindi brinjal, evolving naturally into Arabic al-berenjena, which produced aubergine (French and then British English), berenjena (Spanish), and melanzana (Italian).
And “eggplant”? Perhaps you have seen the small, almost circular eggplants sometimes for sale in farm markets or specialty grocers. Such eggplants likely inspired the botanist whom OED quotes as having written in 1794: “When this [its fruit] is white it has the name of Egg-Plant.”
© 2007 Raymond Sokolov. All rights reserved.