What you see: Brown/orangish colors in your eggplant’s skin
What it is: Likely cold injury
Eat or toss: The eggplant pictured above was too far gone to save. But if you only see a small patch of orange, you’re good to cut it off and eat the rest
This eggplant had it rough.
It was refrigerated at the store, then, en route to a medley of roasted vegetables, it was refrigerated at home. Eggplants are finicky and don’t like temperatures as cold as most American fridges (here's a less dramatic consequence of too-cold eggplant storage).
So, most likely, this eggplant's cells weren’t up to the repeated chilly challenges and they started to go a little haywire, with things leaking out of their membranes, which reacted with each other and oxygen, ultimately creating those icky, soft patches on the eggplant’s skin.
A cold ride
Based on the pattern of the orange splotches, Chris Gunter, vegetable production specialist at North Carolina State University, suspects that, on the truck ride to the store, the eggplant could have been stored at the edge of a box close to the refrigeration unit. That could have caused an oxidation reaction in some of the particularly chilled outer cells.
“It’s not ideal when we see this kind of damage," Gunter said. "One side was probably laying on the colder part of the cooler and the turnover wasn’t high. I’m guessing when she bought this it probably stayed in their fridge quite a while.”
But potentially not a dinner-canceling disaster
If you see this kind of bronzed skin on your aubergine, and it isn’t too widespread, you’re fine to cut it off and eat the rest. But, if it’s formed a wet lesion, as this one has (see that mushy spot), you probably don’t want to eat it as microbes could be making their way in. Before you start cooking with any eggplant with orange or brown patches, you’ll also want to do a careful inspection for any mold or signs of rot.
In your home garden, orange spots could be a sunburn
One more thing—since this eggplant was purchased at the store, it likely developed those brown patches long after it was harvested, and even after it landed in Tina B.’s fridge in Oak Park, IL (thanks Tina, for your field research and photography!). But, if you see an eggplant with similar colors on its skin in your garden at home, you could be looking at a sunburn. Under intense sunlight, eggplant cells can die, leaving behind brown areas and tough, leathery skin.
Chris Gunter. Vegetable Production Specialist and Associate Professor. North Carolina State University.
Vegetables - Eggplant. SaveTheFood.com
Eggplant - Recommendations for Maintaining Post-Harvest Quality. Marita Cantwell and Trevor V. Suslow. Department of Plant Sciences, University of California, Davis
On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. Harold McGee. p. 269. "Enzymatic browning."