African eggplants of the Kumba group have a depressed globular shape with deep furrows and range from 5-15 centimeters in diameter. The fruit may be harvested green,
African eggplants of the Kumba group have a depressed globular shape with deep furrows and range from 5-15 centimeters in diameter. The fruit may be harvested green, white or even red, and the leaves are occasionally eaten as a sautéed vegetable as well. This variety is firm and bitter and best stewed or pickled.
African eggplants are botanically classified as Solanum aethiopicum and also commonly known as Mock Tomato, Bitter Tomato, Ethiopian nightshade and Scarlet Eggplant. They range widely in color and shape depending upon the cultivar and are divided into four groups: Gilo, Shum, Kumba and Aculeatum. This particular variety of African eggplant is of the Kumba Group.
African eggplant leaves are rich on beta-carotene, ascorbic acid, iron and calcium. The fruits bitter taste is attributed to furostanol glycosides (saponins).
The leaves and young shoots of the African eggplant are just as important as the fruits themselves. Containing most of the plant’s nutritional value, they are used in soups, stews, sautés and even pickled. The inherent bitterness of the African eggplant is complimented by slightly sweet flavors, rich proteins and smoked meats. They take well to strong flavors of curry or long braises in a simple blend of oil and garlic. Pair the leaves and fruits in recipes that include nutty cheeses such as parmesan, ham, bacon, sausage, caramelized onions or mushrooms, sweet potatoes, beans and peanuts.
Ethnic - Cultural Info
Geography - History
African eggplants are grown predominantly in their native home of Africa, specifically in Central and West Africa. They have since been introduced into the Caribbean and South America and are even grown in some of the warmer climates of southern Italy.
Growth requirements for African eggplant vary with variety. All types grow best in full sun in well-draining, deep soils with a pH between 5.5 and 6.8. Gilo types grow best at daytime temperatures between 25 and 35°C (77 and 95°F). Kumba types can grow in hotter temperatures of up to 45°C in low humidity, whereas Shum types require warm and humid conditions in order to thrive. No varieties of African eggplant tolerate very cold or water-logged conditions.
Growing from seed
African eggplant seeds can be collected from fully ripe fruits. Once the seeds have been extracted, they should be laid out on a piece paper to dry in a place where they are not exposed to direct sunlight. Once dry, seeds can be stored for many years and still remain viable. Seeds should be planted in a prepared nursery bed and should be sown 15 cm (6 in) apart with a further 20 cm (8 in) between rows. Seedlings are ready for transplanting when they reach 15 to 20 cm (6–8 in) in height and have 5–7 leaves. Plants should be hardened prior to transplanting by gradually reducing the amount of water they receive. Plants should be spaced 50 cm (20 in) apart allowing 75 cm (30 in) between rows.
General care and maintenance
African eggplants will benefit from frequent irrigation during the dry season, particularly when fruiting, to ensure high yields. The crop should be weeded as required to prevent competition. Addition of fertilizer in the form of cattle or chicken or cattle manure or compost will improve yields.
African eggplant is typically ready for harvest 100 to 120 days after planting. The fruit should be harvested before the skin changes color from white to pale yellow when the skin becomes tough. Fruits should be harvested regularly to encourage maximum fruit production. Young leaves may be harvested from 45-60 days of growth.