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The small, round eggplant known as Likok or Indian nightshade is roughly half an inch in diameter with smooth, yellowish-green skin and resembles a miniature pumpkin. The flesh is white to off-white and contains tiny edible seeds embedded in the flesh. As its nickname ‘bitter eggplant’ eludes, Likok has an acerbic taste.
Likok is available in the spring and early summer months in Northern India.
Likok as it is called in the Northern Indian states of Nagaland or Assam , is a bitter eggplant variety. The taxonomy of this variety is hard to determine due to the similarity between multiple species of similar-looking nightshade fruits. Primarily known botanically as Solanum indicum, the small yellowish-green eggplants can also be classified as Solanum lasiocarpum or Solanum xanthocarpum. Known locally as Indian nightshade or Yellow-berried nightshade, the fruit is popular in both the cuisine of the area and in Ayurvedic medicine.
Likok is used in chutneys, mixed with onions and spices. Its bitter taste can be offset by spices and other vegetables, or with the addition of coconut milk in curries. Likok is often pickled in vinegar with a variety of seasonings.
In Ayurvedic medicine, Likok is used for the treatment of asthma and colic. The fruit is also used in treatments of rheumatism and to aid in digestion.
Likok is a hardy plant growing throughout Northern India in the eastern regions of Assam and Nagaland. Similar varieties grow in the surrounding countries as well. Solanum indicum has another synonym, Solanum ferox, which is referred to as ‘poison berry’ though there is no evidence of it being poisonous. Confusion exists around Likok’s true taxonomy due to the variation in language and because the fruit is primarily foraged and not cultivated. The area where Likok is predominantly found is covered in lush tropical forest and dialects of the region can confuse identification. Indian nightshade or Bitter eggplant can be found at local farmer’s markets in Northeastern India; they are a foraged item.