IT IS the in-vogue superfood that has become a culinary staple for health-conscious Scots. But while the humble aubergine may have experienced something of a purple patch in recent years, the vegetable has been posted missing from pantries across the country for weeks.

The aubergine, like its imperilled counterpart the courgette, has joined the ranks of endangered vegetables following a deep freeze sweeping Spain and Italy.

It is thought the legume, sometimes known as “poor man’s meat”, will be in scarce supply until mid March, as wholesale prices quadruple as demand dramatically outstrips reserves.

As the weather improves on the continent, it is hoped normal service will resume, but the cold snap has hampered harvest timings.

Floods in Spain’s south-eastern Murcia region and the bitterly cold weather in Italy wiped out many field crops such as lettuce and broccoli. Peppers and aubergines were among others that have been hit.

After suffering its heaviest rainfall in 30 years, only 30 per cent of Murcia’s growing fields are useable.

Last month Freshfel Europe, a forum based in Brussels that represents the fresh produce industry, said the weather problems afflicting vegetable production were unprecedented, with the yield of courgettes, aubergines, tomatoes, broccoli and peppers from Spain down by about 25 per cent, while prices had risen between 25 per cent and 40 per cent.

But the situation has become even worse according to Andrew Brady of Kirkcaldy-based fruit and vegetable supplies, Raith Fruit and Flowers Ltd.

“All the produce from Spain and Italy is causing major problems,” he said. “Iceberg lettuces are normally £6 a box.

“This morning the same box cost us £16. Aubergines are normally £6 they are now £24; courgettes £5 are now £16.80. But it is not just these individual lines.

“All the raw product in packets of mixed salad out of supermarkets is away up as well.”

He said that indications from the industry were that this would not return to normal “until at least the middle of March”.

Mr Brady added: “The Spanish planted but rain and flooding decimated their crop.

“Their next crop was decimated by the drop in temperature.

“Now they have replanted again but nobody knows what is going to happen, because some of it may still have been affected by the cold.

Craig Davidson, of Tranent-based supplier George Anderson & Sons, said he believed there was a knock-on impact, with restaurant chefs failing to secure courgettes and buying up the remaining aubergines.

“So they have been swallowed up very quickly, hence the price rises,” he said. “Prices have gone through the roof.

“A box of aubergines would normally cost about £8 or £9. Now that same box is up beyond £23.

“That’s what the shops would buy from us.”

David Disbrowe, general manager of vegetarian and vegan cafe-bar The 13th Note in Glasgow’s Merchant City, said: “Obviously the supply of vegetables is crucially important to us.

“Prices are definitely creeping up and I am having to monitor them closely.

“We haven’t had to change the menu yet, but I am keeping and eye on this. Our main courses are £7 or £8 so anything more could have an effect.”

Margaret Gordon, at Organic World Scotland Ltd, in Bathgate, said the vegetables such as aubergines they bought in from the continent had doubled, adding: “There is a big difference: lettuce, fennel and peppers although prices for peppers have dropped a bit this week.”

She said that even with the improving weather it could be some time before the normal prices were restored overall.

It is all in marked contrast to a year ago.

In the 2015/2016 season, Spain exported the largest volume of aubergines on record, with a volume that exceeded 160 million kilos, at the lowest price in 10 seasons.

The effects of shortages are particularly pronounced in Britain, which imports an estimated 50 per cent of its vegetables and 90 per cent of its fruit.

The Grocer magazine’s fresh and chilled foods editor, Kevin White previously said he could not recall the weather affecting supplies so severely.