The Nightshade Family

Nightshade may sound like the name of a popular lipstick, but the term actually refers to a number of edible plants. Let’s take a look at the ones most often used in home cooking.

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Potatoes, eggplant, peppers and tomatoes are all edible members of the nightshade family. This group of fruits and vegetables is often misunderstood. Let’s dig into what makes them special. 

WHAT ARE THEY?

Nightshades are a group of foods that belong to a family of plants called the Solanacea family. There is a long list of inedible nightshades which you’ll never find in a grocery store, but bell peppers, eggplants, tomatoes, and potatoes fall into the edible nightshade category, as well as any spices made from peppers, like paprika, red pepper flakes, and cayenne pepper. 

While most people can enjoy nightshades, some may have digestive sensitivities to them. Glycoalkaloids are a group of chemicals found in nightshade vegetables that form when a sugar molecule combines with an alkaloid molecule. These glycoalkaloids help nightshade plants protect themselves against bacteria, fungi, viruses, insects, and animals. How they affect humans, though, depends on the individual. 

While most people can enjoy nightshades, some may have digestive sensitivities to them.

Glycoalkaloids can act like antioxidants and may even help protect against cancer, but if you’re sensitive to them, they can have a very negative impact on the body. It is believed by many that they aggravate arthritis pain and trigger inflammation, which can make your immune system overreact and negatively affect stomach function. 

Ultimately, there is no hard scientific evidence to support that nightshades are dangerous, but it might be best to avoid them if you already suffer from chronic indigestion or a compromised immune system. 

EDIBLE NIGHTSHADES

Eggplant, or aubergine, is packed with fiber and nutrients.  This large, egg-shaped fruit is a very common ingredient in Italian and Greek cuisine. It is frequently baked, grilled, or fried and is used as a garnish and in stews. The eggplant can absorb large amounts of cooking fats and sauces and is also featured prominently in Indian cuisine, especially in curries.

Raw eggplant has a somewhat bitter taste, but becomes tender when cooked and develops a rich flavor. Salting and rinsing the sliced fruit (known as “degorging”) can soften and remove much of the bitter taste as well. The flesh of an eggplant is smooth like its cousin, the tomato. The seeds are soft and edible, as is the skin. 

Raw eggplant has a somewhat bitter taste, but becomes tender when cooked and develops a rich flavor.

Bell peppers are fruits but, just like eggplant, they are commonly used as a vegetable ingredient. Native to Central America, they come in green, yellow and red, each offering a distinct taste. Green is the most bitter tasting pepper of the three, with red being the sweetest. Bell peppers can be eaten raw or cooked and are commonly sauteed and used in stir-fries and curries. They also make a wonderful vessel for stuffing, once they are cleaned out. You can fill them with grains, meat, vegetables and more! While the seeds are harmless, it is best to avoid them due to their extremely bitter taste. 

Tomatoes and potatoes are other popular nightshades and, while it can be hard to remember, many seasonings and sauces contain nightshades as well. Namely ketchup, hot sauce and curry powder. 

 *This article is purely informational. All nutritional advice should be sought through a professional.