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Oonaga eggplants are very long and cylindrical, averaging 40-60 centimeters in length and have a uniform shape that tapers off into a point at the end. The outer skin is dark purple, firm, and glossy. The inner flesh is pale yellow to ivory, soft, and dense. The seeds inside the Oonaga eggplant are hardly noticeable when consumed but have a slightly bitter flavor because they contain alkaloids similar to the bitter flavors of tobacco. When cooked, Oonaga eggplants offer a tender texture and a mild and slightly sour taste.
Oonaga eggplants are available year-round, with peak season from summer to early fall.
Oonaga eggplants, botanically classified as Solanum melongena, are members of the Solananceae, or nightshade family, making them related to both tomatoes and potatoes. They are registered as one of the Kumamoto prefecture's traditional vegetables. Oonaga means very long in Japanese, and these fruits are aptly named because Oonaga eggplants are the longest eggplants in Japan. Oonaga eggplants are typically three times longer than regular Japanese eggplants and are known for their length, tender flesh, and ability to grow longer in cool temperatures.
Oonaga eggplants contain fiber, vitamin C, potassium, and magnesium.
Oonaga eggplants are best suited for cooked applications such as braising, stewing, deep frying or stuffing. Salting, rinsing, and drying the sliced eggplant, also called degorging, helps to remove some of the bitter flavor and amount of fat that is absorbed during cooking. They can be sliced and grilled or stir-fried and mixed with other vegetables to make a hearty, meatless main dish. They can also be used in soups or fried and served as a side dish. Oonaga eggplants pair well with garlic, green onions, ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil, miso, tomatoes, broccoli, and squash. Oonaga eggplants will keep up to three days when stored in a cool and dry place.
Oonaga eggplants are commonly grown in the Kumamoto Prefecture in Japan, but a large earthquake in 2016 damaged the equipment decreasing eggplant production. Minami Ward is one of the largest Oonaga eggplant producing regions in the Kumamoto Prefecture and had to throw away over ninety tons of eggplant due to damaged sorting equipment. Production has increased since the earthquake and eggplants remain to be one of the top grown items. It is commonly used in both high-end restaurants and local family establishments in Japan.
Oonaga eggplants are believed to have originated in Japan and have been grown in the Kumamoto Prefecture, Fukuoka Prefecture, and Nagasaki Prefecture since 1970. Today Oonaga eggplants can be found at farmers markets and specialty grocers in Japan and select parts of southern Asia.
Recipes that include Oonaga Eggplant. One is easiest, three is harder.