Tuesday, October 26, 2010


These small, green, egg-shaped cousins of the tomato and the eggplant (all members of the Solanaceae family) are a common sight in the markets and supermarkets of Brazil. In English it's known variously as Gilo, Scarlet Eggplant, and in West Africa where it originated, it's often called "garden egg." In Portuguese, they're called jiló. As with so many other foods, it was carried to the New World by slaves being transported to the sugar cane plantations and the gold mines of Brazil.

Whenever I've seen jiló in the market, it's always been a brilliant kelly green, and I assumed that was the mature color of this fruit - it is a fruit, although it's used culinarily as a vegetable, just like it's Solanaceae cousin, the tomato. It turns out, however, as I discovered while researching this piece for Flavors of Brazil, that when mature the jiló is red or yellow. The jiló that is sold commercially is unripe, and thus green. Apparently, Brazilian consumers will not accept a red or yellow jiló, and so by the time these colors appear, jiló has no commercial value.

Its immaturity might explain the primary flavor characteristic of the jiló - bitterness. If you have a taste for bitter food or drink - let's say you LOVE Campari - you're likely to enjoy jiló on the first try. If you don't, it's likely to be an acquired taste, or perhaps a taste you'll never grow to like.

Jiló is particularly associated with the cuisine of the interior Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, and with the traditional foods of descendants of slaves from that region. There is a very large number of Brazilians from Minas Gerais (mineiros) living in the state of Massachusetts, and according the the University of Massachusetts Agriculture Department, jiló can be, and is, grown successfully in Massachusetts. It seems that it can be grown in any region where eggplant cultivation is possible. Seeds are available online from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

Jiló can be cooked in any number of ways - stir-fried, oven roasted, gratinéed, a la parmigiana, etc. etc. It can even be made into very nice chips. I'll add some recipes for jiló shortly.

1 comment:

  1. I am learning the Luis Gonzaga tune called Qui Nem Jilo and know I know what it is about! thank you