Sweet, buttery smooth, and earthy, Chinese eggplant (qie zi 茄子) is the central ingredient in many Chinese dishes. Join us as we explain what Chinese eggplant are, how they differ from other types of eggplants, and how to choose and cook them.
What is Chinese Eggplant?
While generally thought of as a vegetable, eggplant is actually a berry. The cultivation of eggplant is mentioned in Chinese agricultural writings during the Western Jin Dynasty (AD 265-316) indicating that eggplant have been cultivated in China for close to 2,000 years. Eggplant reached Japan from China around the 8th century. China is now the world’s largest producer and consumer of eggplant.
Chinese eggplants are long and slender and can be straight or curved. Eggplant is generally spongy and absorbent. Their outer skin ranges from pale violet to bright purple and their inner flesh is semi firm and almost seedless. They have a delicate slightly sweet flavor profile.
Japanese Eggplant vs. Chinese Eggplant
While Japanese eggplant look similar to Chinese eggplant, they are a darker purple, similar in color to American eggplant. Japanese eggplants are slightly smaller than Chinese eggplant. Their taste is not quite as delicate and sweet as Chinese eggplant because they contain more seeds.
Chinese Eggplant vs. American Globe Eggplant
American, or globe eggplant, are usually shorter and have a much larger girth and are pear shaped compared to the long slender Chinese eggplant. They also have more seeds and are bitterer compared to the sweeter taste of Chinese eggplant.
Italian Eggplant vs. Chinese Eggplant
Italian eggplant is a darker purple than Chinese eggplant and is shorter (5 to 8 inches long) and has a larger girth. Their flavor is not as mild and sweet as Chinese eggplant but are more delicate and sweeter than the larger American eggplant.
How to Choose
Look for eggplant with very few blemishes and smooth skin. When Chinese eggplant aren’t fresh, they develop brown splotchy patches. The fresher the eggplant the more delicate and sweeter it will taste. When they’ve been off the vine too long they begin to develop a slightly bitter flavor.
Buying and Storage
You can buy Chinese or Japanese eggplant at almost any Asian market. Global supply chains mean they are usually available all year, but in the summer they are usually fresher because they are grown locally and do not take as long to get to market. We frequently find them at Western grocery stores, but they are often not as fresh because they are bought less often compared to eggplant in Asian markets. It will depend on your area though.
How to Cook
Chinese eggplants are very versatile and can be stir-fried, grilled, and baked. Although one of the most delicate varieties of eggplant, they are still hearty enough to be thinly sliced and stir-fired, such as in our eggplant with tomatoes and peppers stir-fry. They are often cut into large strips and stir-fried in the well-known eggplant with garlic sauce dish and sliced and grilled with cumin in western Chinese cuisine. Whatever your cooking method, Chinese eggplant will not disappoint.
Chinese eggplants are nutrient dense, containing many vitamins and minerals, as well as fiber. They are also rich in antioxidants, such as anthocyanins.
Japanese eggplant is the best substitute for Chinese eggplant because they contain similar amounts of seeds and they both have a delicate sweet flavor. Italian eggplants are the second best substitute since their flavor is milder and sweeter than American eggplant.