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When to Pick Eggplant: Perfect Timing for Tasty Fruit

When to pick eggplant fresh from the garden for the best flavor.

When to Pick Eggplant: Perfect Timing for Tasty Fruit

Garden-fresh eggplant is truly a summer treat, but you must know when to pick eggplant if you want to enjoy the best flavor and texture.

The good news is that it’s pretty simple to assess your eggplant’s ripeness based on just a few factors. In this post, I’ll show you the signs I look for, including skin color and texture, the expected size of the eggplant based on the variety, and how it feels under a little gentle pressure.

Let’s get started!

Key Points:

  • Eggplants are ripe when they have a vibrant color over the entire skin, a glossy finish, and they spring back slightly under gentle pressure.
  • Standard eggplants should be 4-6 inches in length, miniature varieties should be 2-4 inches long, and Chinese eggplants can reach up to 18 inches.
  • Use sharp pruning shears to cut the eggplant from the plant, and store for up to five days. The flavor will be best immediately after harvest.

When to Pick Eggplant for Peak Flavor

A perfectly ripe eggplant should have a mild flavor that won’t overpower others, and the seeds should be very small and easy to chew.

And you definitely don’t want to let your eggplant get too ripe or pick it if it’s not ready. Overripe eggplants are bitter-tasting, tough, and basically inedible. And while underripe eggplants will have a more palatable texture, they can also be very bitter.

A young, immature eggplant fruit growing in the garden.
Immature eggplant fruit

Don’t let all your hard work in growing eggplants go to waste- let’s look at how to know when you have a perfectly ripe one in your garden. There are four categories to help you out:

  1. Days to maturity
  2. Fruit size
  3. Skin color and texture
  4. Flesh texture

1. Days to Maturity for the Variety

All types of eggplant go through the same growth phases, but some progress more quickly than others.

It’s certainly no guarantee, but the projected days to maturity should be your biggest clue as to roughly when you can expect your eggplants to produce ripe fruit.

Typically, smaller varieties produce fruits much more quickly than their larger counterparts:

  • Dwarf and Indian eggplants: 50-65 days after transplanting seedlings in the garden
  • Standard and Chinese eggplants: 70-85 days after transplanting seedlings in the garden
A large Italian eggplant fruit with glossy skin and deep purple color growing in the garden.
Ripe American eggplant

If you’re starting your eggplants from seeds, it will likely be somewhere between 90-120 days from planting the seeds to harvesting ripe fruit.

For most growers, those timeframes will likely fall during the true summer months- July through September. Even if you get your plants in the ground a little later on, eggplant will keep producing until the first fall frost.

But this point bears repeating: These timeframes are just guidelines. The care you give your plants and the environmental conditions can make a huge difference in how fast your eggplants are ready for harvest.

2. Fruit Size

How big a ripe eggplant fruit will be depends on the variety.

Here’s a quick breakdown of how long various eggplant types will get:

  • Chinese eggplant: Up to 18 inches long
  • American eggplant (also known as globe eggplant): 8-10 inches long
  • Italian eggplant: 6-8 inches long
  • Japanese eggplant: 3-6 inches long
  • Indian eggplant: 3-4 inches long
  • Miniature eggplant: 2-4 inches long
  • Thai eggplant: 1-2 inches long
A ripe, glossy glove eggplant fruit growing in the garden.

One key point to understand is that your homegrown eggplant will almost certainly not be as big as the eggplant you see at the store. This is because commercial eggplant growers have their routine down to a science, and they have determined the ideal growing conditions and also the balance of getting the biggest fruits while still preventing overripe ones.

Aim to harvest your eggplants when they’re about one-third of their fully mature size- that range should get you past the underripe stage and avoid overripeness. Plus, your plants will be more likely to keep producing new fruits if you harvest earlier.

3. Skin Color and Surface Texture

A perfectly ripe eggplant should have a vibrant color that’s appropriate for the variety you’re growing. The color should be even across the entire fruit.

Along with the color, the skin color should be glossy and healthy-looking. And this is a key factor for spotting an overripe fruit- it will lose that high-gloss finish as the seeds inside mature and grow larger/tougher.

4. Flesh Texture

Many times in the garden, you have to rely on your senses to determine if a plant is ready for harvest. So what does a ripe eggplant feel like?

A harvest-ready eggplant should yield slightly to gentle pressure and mostly return to its original state- you might see a slight indentation.

If the eggplant is underripe, the skin will be much more elastic and will bounce right back to a smooth surface. On the other hand, an overripe fruit will have a softer, more sponge-like feel that retains indentations.

How to Harvest Eggplant The Right Way

Once you’ve determined that your eggplants are ready to pick, you need to make sure you do it the right way.

I know from uncomfortable experience that eggplant stems can be prickly. I usually just try to be careful so I don’t get poked, but a pair of gloves is a good idea.

Eggplant stems are fibrous and strong, so don’t try to pull or twist the eggplants off the plant. Trying to harvest like this will damage your plant, and handling the eggplant fruit itself can cause bruising or breaks in the skin.

Instead, use a pair of sharp pruning shears to cut the fruit away about 1 inch up the stem. Leave that piece of stem intact to help prevent the fruit from rotting. This video from CaliKim has some helpful harvesting tips:

How to Store Eggplant After Harvest

Fresh eggplants have the very best flavor right after being picked, so try to time your harvest to coincide with your culinary plans.

But the best-laid plans don’t always work out, and your garden-fresh eggplant will be ok for a few days after harvest. If you’re going to use your eggplant later in the day or the next, it will be fine at room temperature out on the counter.

If you need a little more storage time, a root cellar or other cool, damp area that’s around 50 degrees Fahrenheit is your best bet. But since most of us don’t have that kind of storage available, you can also use the refrigerator. Keep your eggplant as far to the front of the fridge as possible to keep it from getting too cold. You can store your eggplant up to five days this way.

Just be sure to keep them away from other fruits/veggies that release ethylene– a hormone that can stimulate faster eggplant breakdown. A few common offenders are apples, bananas, melons, and tomatoes.

No matter where you’re going to be keeping your fresh eggplant, don’t wash it before storing. Any moisture left on the skin could cause your eggplant to go back faster. Instead, brush off any dirt or debris on the skin before setting the eggplant aside to store. Then do a thorough wash right before you’re ready to cook.

Frequently Asked Questions about When to Pick Eggplant

A freshly-picked eggplant may continue to ripen slightly after harvesting, but there’s no guarantee. Leaving an eggplant on the kitchen counter in hopes of ripening could also result in the fruit shriveling up and developing a bitter flavor. It’s best to pick your eggplant as close as peak ripeness as possible and consume it within a couple of days after harvesting.

The total number of eggplant fruits a single plant produces varies based on variety, care, and environmental conditions. Varieties that yield larger fruits typically produce 5-6 eggplants, while smaller varieties may produce up to 24 fruits per plant.

Eggplant stores best in dark, cool areas that are around 50 degrees Fahrenheit. If you plan to use your eggplant in the next day or two, you can leave it on the kitchen counter, and the refrigerator is an acceptable second choice for up to five days.

Final Thoughts

I hope after reading this article, you’ve got a much better idea of when to pick eggplant at just the right time. Make sure to carefully assess the fruit for a glossy skin with a deep color that’s appropriate for the variety you’re growing, a conservative mature size for the eggplant type, and a flesh texture that shows just the slightest indentation with gentle pressure.

And remember- don’t wait! You’re always better off erring on the side of harvesting a little too early than too late. Now enjoy your favorite eggplant dish!

I’d love to hear from you! Are there any other lingering questions you have about harvesting or figuring out whether your eggplant is ripe? Do you have any other eggplant-picking tips to share that you’re learned along the way? Either way, we can all learn from each other’s questions and experiences, so feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!

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