Is Eggplant a Fruit or a Vegetable?

Before you whip up some eggplant parm or baba ghanoush, find out if the eggplant you’re about to use is actually a fruit or a vegetable.

From eggplant parm to stir-fry, ratatouille to roasted vegetables, this delicious purple food is the star of many of our favorite dishes. We know it’s tasty, and it’s definitely one of our five a day, but there’s a little confusion about how it should be classified—namely, is eggplant a fruit or a vegetable?

The fruit/vegetable debate is a familiar one in the world of food facts trivia. And if you already know where you stand on the “is tomato a fruit or a vegetable” discussion, and you’re pretty sure that you know which nuts are nuts and which aren’t (wait, are peanuts actually nuts? Is cucumber a fruit or a vegetable? Is avocado a fruit or a vegetable?), then you may have some assumptions about eggplants. But you know what they say about making assumptions—and the eggplant story is stranger than you might think.

How did eggplants get their name?

Eggplants are surprisingly complex. For one thing, they’re not all purple; other types of eggplant come in shades of white, green, red, and black. For another, they have different aliases depending on where you live. The eggplant is an ancient crop, cultivated by humans all over the globe for hundreds of years, and it has as many names as you would expect of such a well-traveled plant.

Here in the United States, it’s called eggplant because the first eggplants to arrive on these shores were the size, shape, and color of eggs. In some parts of the South, however, it is also known as the Guinea squash, because eggplants were brought from Guinea (in West Africa) in the 18th century.

In the U.K. and parts of Europe, the eggplant is known by its French name, aubergine, which makes sense because British food names are never quite what we expect. FYI, aubergine is a version of the eggplant’s ancient Arabic name, “al-badinjan.” In India, “al-badinjan” became “brinjal.”

But whether you call it aubergine, brinjal, eggplant, or dinner, it’s nice to know what you’re dealing with, beyond its name. Which brings us to the question at hand, and the reason you’re here.

Is eggplant a fruit or a vegetable?

So, is eggplant a fruit? As always, it comes down to technicalities, like the whole cacao vs. cocoa conversation. In this case, eggplants are considered fruits, or more specifically, berries. Yes, berries! Many fruits that come from a single flower, like eggplants, and even cucumbers and melons, are classified as berries.

Eggplants count as vegetables only in one sense—the culinary. When we cook with eggplants, we treat them as vegetables: frying, grilling, baking, boiling, roasting, and mashing them to make tasty treats such as baba ghanoush and moussaka. The humble eggplant is just another addition to the long list of fruits that we treat as vegetables, like peppers, zucchini, and pumpkins.

Why is an eggplant considered a fruit?

Eggplants are fruits due to the way they grow. Fruits develop from the flower of a plant and contain seeds, whereas vegetables are any other part of the plant: roots, stems, or leaves. Eggplants belong to the nightshade family, which includes tomatoes and potatoes. We should all be so lucky in our relatives.

Like all fruits and vegetables, eggplants are nutrient dense, which is another way we know they’re in that five-a-day category. Some eggplant benefits include being high in antioxidants, and high in fiber at three grams per cup, which means they’re good for your gut and they also help regulate your blood sugar. The gorgeous aubergine also has a reasonable amount of manganese, folate, potassium, and vitamins K and C, so add some to your shopping list right now for a healthy mid-week dinner.

All eggplants are beautiful

No matter what types of eggplant you like to eat or what you choose to call it, it’s safe to assume that we’ve settled the “is eggplant a fruit” question once and for all. From the slender Japanese eggplant to the purple-and-white-striped zebra eggplant to the watermelon-colored Thai eggplant, they’re all fruits—and they’re all delicious if you prepare them right (air-fryer eggplant fries are always the answer, in our opinion). In fact, if you get the right ingredients and assemble the right dessert, it’s possible to have a meal comprised entirely of fruits and no vegetables!

Now that you’re an eggplant eggspert (sorry), find out whether coconut is a nut and what’s actually in American cheese.

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Chloë Nannestad
Chloë is a lifestyle writer covering crafts, holidays, beauty, and amazing products for RD.com. When she's not scouring the Internet or reading product reviews, she's planning her next backpacking trip and thinking about getting a dog.