The eggplant is a vegetable with a reputation spread far and wide. In India, it’s known as “the king of vegetables” for its crown-shaped stalky cap, while in Italy, it has the dubious distinction of being mela insana, the “mad apple.” In the U.S. and Australia, we call it an eggplant because of the white skin and small, ovoid shape of the first imported varieties. Meanwhile, in Britain, it’s dubbed an aubergine, which reflects an etymology traced backed to Sanskrit and passed on down through the tongues of the Middle East, Northern Africa, the Iberian peninsula, and France.
A vegetable with so many names and guises could only have an expansive presence across cuisines. It is the backbone of dishes ranging from ratatouille to baba ganoush to garlicky wok-fried eggplant and beyond. Likewise, eggplants come in many shapes and forms from the tiny pea eggplants of Thailand to the colossal globe eggplants that populate U.S. grocery stores.
There are dozens of eggplant subspecies grown throughout the world, although only a handful are available in stores and markets in the U.S.. When buying eggplants, look for ones with smooth, firm, unwrinkled skin and a fresh-looking, green stalk. Here are eight varieties to keep an eye out for.
1. Globe Eggplant
These are the large, clunky behemoths you’re likely to find in the produce section at the supermarket. Globe eggplants have rather papery skin and bland, watery flesh that absorbs oil like a sponge—it’s no wonder that so many people dislike eggplant when globes are their only point of reference. What globes lack in flavor, however, they make up for in size. Use them in sandwiches and other recipes where that extra surface area really counts. Get our Pressed Eggplant and Pepper Sandwich recipe.
2. Italian Eggplant
Italian eggplants look like globe eggplants, but shrunken down a few notches. That difference seems to help, revealing flesh that is sweeter and more flavorful, covered by tender skin. You can use them in pretty much any Mediterranean-style recipe, although they naturally are a perfect fit for your Italian and Italian American favorites. Get our Baked Ziti with Sausage, Eggplant, and Ricotta recipe.
3. Zebra Eggplant
Also known as a graffiti or Sicilian eggplant, these beauties are distinguished by their striped lavender and white skins. They cook pretty similarly to Italian eggplants, although with such pretty exteriors, you might want to leave them as undisturbed as possible to keep their colors. Simple roasted eggplant halves like these with sumac and paprika do just that. Get the recipe here.
4. White Eggplant
Another variety that’s similar to the Italian and cooks in the same ways as well. Some swear that white eggplants are a little bit sweeter than purple skinned varieties. Show off their uniquely colored skin by stuffing halves with meat or grains, like in these sausage and parmesan boats. Get the recipe here.
5. Fairy Tale Eggplant
Fairy tale eggplants are a farmers’ market favorite. Coming in at a mere two to four inches in length, they are something of a wee curiosity that fits in the palm of your hand. They lack the bitterness of larger varieties, however, and have particularly creamy flesh. Dice them up for stir fries or halve and grill them simply with some olive oil, as this recipe demonstrates. Get the recipe here.
6. Japanese Eggplant
Japanese eggplants are a dark purple eggplant that, although slender and long, can easily slip into many recipes that would otherwise call for globe eggplant. And they’d taste better for it, too: with thinner skins and less bitter flesh, they are simply an all around better choice in most dishes, flavor and texture-wise. In fact, we recommend using them in a number of classic recipes, including the granddaddy of them all, eggplant parmesan. Get our Eggplant Parmesan recipe.
7. Chinese Eggplant
Chinese eggplants are similar to and can be used interchangeably with Japanese eggplants, the one major difference being their lighter amethyst color. Since they don’t have the tendency to suck up every bit of oil, the way globes do, they take especially well to stir fries. Try them in this tamarind-laced variation, which has a pleasant touch of heat and sour tang. Get our Stir Fried Tamarind Eggplant recipe.
8. Indian Eggplant
Indian eggplants are short, stubby little things. Although they don’t have any significant differences from Western varieties in terms of taste and texture, they traditionally lend themselves to South Asian style curries and stews. You can also find them stuffed full of nuts and spices, like in this potent, masala-laced recipe. Get the recipe here.
9. Apple Eggplant
Here’s one eggplant that’s really not like the others. These golf-ball sized green eggplants are found in Thai, Lao, and Cambodian cuisines. With a crisp, snappy skin and seed-filled, pudding-like flesh, they aren’t really interchangeable with the other varieties on this list. But they can be used to make some incredibly flavorful Southeast Asian dishes, like real deal green curry. Get the recipe here.
Miki Kawasaki is a New York City–based food writer and graduate of Boston University's program in Gastronomy. Few things excite her more than a well-crafted sandwich or expertly spiced curry. If you ever run into her at a dinner party, make sure to hit her up for a few pieces of oddball culinary trivia.