Eggplants (Solanum melongena) are annual, warm-season vegetables that are members of the nightshade plant family and are closely related to tomatoes (Lycopersicon esculentum), potatoes (Solanum tuberosum) and peppers (Capsicum annum). Eggplants produce elongated, thin-skinned fruits with tender, meaty flesh. They are traditionally deep purple to black, depending on the variety. The many different varieties of eggplants include miniature eggplants, which are generally between 1 and 3 inches long. Determining ripeness lets you know when mini eggplants are ready to be eaten.

Eggplant with mint leaf on napkin, close-up
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Eggplants were cultivated in China around 500 B.C.

Number of Days to Maturity

Eggplant fruits are ripe and ready to eat once they reach maturity. The exact number of days between transplanting an eggplant seedling outdoors to harvesting the vegetable depends on the variety of eggplant that you grow. However, miniature eggplant varieties are ripe and ready for harvest in a shorter time span than traditional, larger varieties. A large eggplant usually takes between 75 and 95 days to reach maturity, while mini eggplants are ripe and ready for harvest within 50 to 60 days.

Determining Ripeness

To determine if a mini eggplant is ripe and ready to be eaten, gently press on the surface of the fruit with your index finger. It should feel tender, and the area in which you press should quickly regain its form. This lets you know that the fruit is ripe and ready to be harvested and added to your favorite dish.

The skin of the fruit should appear glossy or shiny and vibrant in color. If the eggplant is overly ripe, an indention will form in the area that you press, and the skin might appear loose, wrinkled, dull or lifeless. Overripe eggplant is usually bitter in flavor and filled with seeds. If the number of days to maturity has yet to pass based on the miniature eggplant variety you are growing, the fruits are not yet ripe, and should remain on the plant to reach maturity.

Examples

You can turn any regular eggplant variety into a miniature eggplant by harvesting the fruit early. As long as the fruit is 1 to 2 ounces, it will be just as flavorful and tender as if you left the fruit on the plant to obtain its full size. For example, the "Calliope" cultivar is a hybrid eggplant which requires 64 days to reach maturity. However, instead of allowing the fruit reach its full size at 4 inches, you can harvest the fruit and eat it when it is only 2 inches long for a mini eggplant.

Of course, there are also true miniature eggplant varieties, such as the "Bambino," a hybrid cultivar that produces 1- to 1-½ inch fruits. These mini eggplants are ripe within 45 days of transplant.

Cultural Practices and Storage

Eggplants are tender annuals that are easily killed off by an early or unexpected frost. If the threat of frost looms and you still have fruits on the plant that have yet to ripen, it is possible to force eggplants into ripening so you can save the fruits from freezing. To force ripening, cut the blossoms off the eggplant four weeks before the average first frost date, leaving existing eggplants to ripen.

Additionally, to keep a plant producing fruit throughout the growing season, regularly harvest ripe eggplants. In the refrigerator, eggplant will remain ripe and of good quality for approximately a week.