The Curious History of the EGGPLANT

Curiosity #1:  The name EGGPLANT.  Yes, folks, the first eggplant seen by Europeans in the 18th century really looked like an egg.  The descriptive name has stuck ever since, in spite of…

By Horticulturalist RJ – Own Work, CC, BY-SA 4.0


The first eggplants were purplish in color.  Selective breeding by farmers and plant scientists resulted in the development of different varieties or cultivars.  And so, we see eggplants in many shapes, sizes, and colors.

Eggplant display (source: via Wikimedia Commons, user Phoebe (Own work))
Source: Wikimedia Commons, User Phoebe (own work)


In the marketing of apparel — clothes, shoes, bags, for example — we encounter eggplant as the name of a color.  Every now and then, the color is called aubergine,  French for “eggplant.”  More on this later.


Curiosity $2:  The eggplant is a FRUIT.  The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines fruit as “the usually edible reproductive body of a seeded plant.”

The word fruit is generally associated with sweet produce which are consumed as desserts.  One exception to that generalization is the eggplant.  Because it has seeds, it is classified botanically as a fruit.  But because of its bitter taste, it is usually cooked and eaten as a vegetable.


Curiosity #3:  The eggplant is a WELL-TRAVELLED plant.   Aneela Marchandani of San Francisco, via her website The Odd Pantry, takes us along the route of the eggplant.

The eggplant was cultivated in India long before the place became a country.  The plant and its fruit was called in Sanskrit by the names vrintaka and batingan.  From these words arose other names for it, thus:
Hindi: baingan
Kannada: badne kai
Telugu: vankaya
Bengali: begun
Marathi: vangi
Sindhi: vangan

When it reached Iran, the Hindu word batingan turned into the Persian bandenjan.  It was widely accepted, and many recipes were developed.

When the Arabs conquered the Persian lands, the prefix al was added, thus al-bandinjan.

The Arabs also occupied the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) for hundred of years, bringing many crops and ways of cooking.

  • The Spaniards dropped the prefix al and called the eggplant berenjena.
  • In Portugal, it became berengela.
  • The headstrong people of the Cataluna region (see map: northwestern Spain) kept the al prefix and modified the original word into alberginia.Map of Spain and France and sub-regions

    Next door, the French were willing to adopt the vegetable into their cuisine, but had problems saying the prefix al.   Aubergine suited them just fine.

    More interesting details of the eggplant’s travels across Europe can be told, but the above names should be enough to help you navigate many world markets.

    Now, the big question:  WHY DO WE CALL IT TALONG IN THE PHILIPPINES?

    As discussed in many posts in AtoZFoodnames, Indonesian and Malay settlers helped to populate our islands during pre-Spanish times.  Very likely, they gave us the name for this vegetable.

    The terung of  the Malay language and the terong of Indonesian are the probable parents of our talong.

    And where did the Malays and Indonesians get their words?  Let’s go back to Curiosity #3:  The eggplant is a well-travelled plant.

    Among the variations of the eggplant’s early name in India is the Bengali word begun.  I’m not an expert in linguistics, but I bet begun gave rise to terung and tarong.  You see, ancient India exerted a profound influence over Southeast Asia through, religious missions, wars, and other forms of contact.

    Pre-colonial Malaysia was part of the Indian-ized Kingdoms which included the Shri-Vishaya and Madjapahit empires.  If you recall our Philippine history, those two kingdoms also had contact with the early inhabitants of our archipelago.  In fact, the middle group of islands in our country, the Visayas, is named after the Shri-Vishaya.








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