By Karla Arboleda
Clemson University researchers are studying the productivity of different specialty eggplants to determine their value over common eggplants.
Anthony (Tony) Keinath, an Extension vegetable pathologist at Clemson University, is conducting fall trials on several eggplant cultivars. Their size and appearance determine their potential market success.
“We are doing this with a minimal amount of pesticide inputs. The insecticides and fungicides we use are ones that would be commonly available,” Keinath said. “We selected different fruit types to represent all the major types of specialty eggplants.”
The different cultivars being tested at Clemson include Black Beauty, a globe fruit; Gretel, a white fruit; Hansel, a Chinese-type fruit; Millionaire, a Japanese-type fruit; Patio Baby, an Indian-type fruit; and Rosa Bianca, an Italian-type fruit.
Of these cultivars, Black Beauty and Rosa Bianca are the most familiar-looking eggplants. However, they ranked below smaller eggplants like Hansel and Gretel when it came to their yield harvested in June and July.
“It’s a little bit misleading to compare the numbers of fruit because smaller varieties of eggplants with small fruit produce greater numbers of fruit per plant, whereas bigger eggplants produce a lot fewer fruits,” Keinath said.
He noted there are different markets in which specialty eggplants can be sold. Grocery stores and farmers’ markets have certain clientele that require distinct characteristics in their produce, but ultimately, they just want good quality food.
“I came up with what I’m calling ‘edible fruit,’ which is basically your ‘perfect-looking’ fruit plus the scarred, misshapen and discolored fruits,” Keinath said, explaining how fruits with visible blemishes are not technically suitable for a grocery store. “Growers would be selling ‘edible fruit’ at a farmers’ market or through a CSA (community-supported agriculture).”
Overall, specialty eggplants are more valuable than mainstream varieties of eggplant, so they could be a good investment for growers.
“Some of these specialty eggplants can be worth two or even three times as much as the standard eggplants, and obviously that’s worth more per acre,” Keinath said.
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