Do You Actually Need to Salt Eggplant in Advance?

Do you actually need to salt eggplant in advance?

7/21/2021 7:00:00 PM

Do you actually need to salt eggplant in advance?

And other eggplant frequently asked questions, answered by our Kitchen Scientist columnist, Nik Sharma.

You’ve probably read that salting eggplantremovesthe bitterness. This is not accurate. For one, the alkaloids that taste bitter in eggplants are a bit large and can’t simply come out via osmosis when salt is added. Instead, saltmasksand reduces the perception of the bitter taste (salt mostly draws out liquid from the eggplant).

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Both salty and bitter tastes have the ability to interact with each other when present in the mouth, with salt muting the taste of bitterness. Sweetness is another taste that can mask bitterness, which is why a lot of bitter pills are coated with something sweet. (Taste physiologists and scientists have determined that the five basic tastes—salty, sour, bitter, sweet, and savory—can

interact with each other producing different outcomes.)So, do you still need to salt eggplant in advance? To mask bitterness, not really. For the most part, farmers have selectively bred eggplants and picked varieties that tasted less bitter over the years. For most recipes, I just cut the eggplant and get cooking.

But What About Frying?This is the one occasion when I take the time to salt eggplant in advance. The two major components of an eggplant arewater and air, so it makes sense to get rid of that water when you want to get a firmer, less soggy texture. I sprinkle a generous amount of salt over sliced eggplant and let it sit in a bowl for 45 minutes. Then I discard any drawn-out liquid, rinse the eggplant under cold tap water to get rid of any excess salt, pat it dry, and then proceed with the recipe.

Eggplant ConfitHow Do I Prevent Browning?Just like apples that turn brown after slicing, eggplants also contain the enzyme polyphenol oxidase. Sprinkling a few drops of lemon juice (or a different cooking acid like vinegar) will help prevent the slices from browning. This type of browning doesn’t affect taste, and you won’t notice it after cooking.

What Flavors Go Well With Eggplant?If the eggplant you’re working with happens to taste bitter, you can still hide it by adding a splash of lemon juice, lime juice, or vinegar. Fish and soy sauces also mask bitter flavors, and build umami along the way. Palm sugar, unrefined brown sugar, or a sweetener like maple syrup or honey will also help cover up any bitterness. And even if your eggplant isn’t bitter to start out with, all of these ingredients beautifully complement the mild vegetable.

Why Are Eggplants Often Used As Meat Substitutes?Eggplant is often described as meaty, and you’ll frequently see it incorporated with meat to build up that textural profile. Think: eggplant stuffed with ground lamb or eggplant sautéed with beef.But if you don’t eat meat, eggplant can provide that chewy texture all on its own. Like tofu, this vegetable is essentially a sponge, effortlessly absorbing flavors. This makes it the perfect vehicle for savoriness.

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