This has been one of those age old questions that I have really been wanting to know the real answer to. Why do we do it? My first experiences with eggplant (aubergine) involved salt and have done ever since. That’s what I was told needed to be done. But really, is it absolutely necessary?
There is even a “technical” term for it – a process referred to as “degorging”. Sounds terrible, yes. That’s the official name for sprinkling salt over the aubergine slices to draw out the juices.
What brought me to this question, is that I recently bought a gorgeous Barbarella Sicilian eggplant from the market. They are a wonderfully dense (great for grilling!) with an excellent slightly sweet and slightly nutty flavor. So I asked my trusted vegetable man. Frank. He knows everything. Do I need to salt this? He proceeded to tell me that in theory, yes, salting draws out the bitter juices. But, big BUT, commercially cultivated modern variety eggplants aren’t as bitter as they used to be, so it’s no longer necessary. He also assured me that if eggplant is young and fresh then then it is nor here nor there. Great news. What a time saver!
But wait a minute, Frank wasn’t done. There was more. Salting can be skipped unless you’re planning to fry them; eggplants soak up oil (think sponge) and salting helps reduce that, plus it aids in faster browning. The technical part: salting collapses the air pockets of the eggplant’s sponge-like flesh, preventing it from absorbing too much oil when cooking. Good to know.
Third point. I should cook eggplant immediately after preparing it, otherwise it will oxidize and turn brown just like an apple. Egpplants are technically a fruit (actually a berry!) – we just use it as a vegetable. He also gave me a little insider tip. With a wink and a smile, he told me to always look for the paler Barbarella eggplants…the males. They are sweeter and less seedy. Thanks Frank. Is he for real? I’ll have to google that.
I didn’t find an answer that question, but I did learn something interesting. Here’s what I got:
“Male eggplants tend to have fewer seeds, than female eggplants. To sex an eggplant, look at the indentation at bottom. If it’s deep and shaped like a dash, it’s a female. If it’s shallow and round, it’s a male. Smaller eggplants also tend to be less bitter. Freshness is important, so don’t store them for very long.”
Source: The Cook’s Thesaurus, by Lori Alden
So…to “salt or not to salt? You’re the cook, you decide. I’m certain it will taste great either way. Enjoy!