Asparagus has been cultivated since as early as 3000 BC. It was extremely popular during the reign of Louis XIV in France, and is prized today for its flavor and health benefits.
Asparagus contains important vitamins and nutrients not found in other vegetables, so look for ways to include it in your healthy diet. Toss whole spears in olive oil and roast them with kosher salt and flaked Parmesan cheese. Steam, then dice asparagus and add it to omelets, pasta primavera, or a side dish of quinoa. Create a new favorite spinach salad, with asparagus tips coated with raspberry vinaigrette. The options are endless!
You’ll commonly find standard green asparagus in your produce section: bright green spears about 9 inches long and a finger width wide, with perhaps a hint of purple on the tips and leaf ends. Your grocer may also stock white asparagus, which is a pale ivory; or purple asparagus, which is a deep purple color.
Few green vegetables have as distinct a taste as fresh green asparagus. The grassy flavor provides a wonderful contrast in pasta dishes, salads, and eggs. Roasted green asparagus has an earthy sweetness that works well with other vegetables and meats.
White asparagus has a slightly milder flavor and is more tender than green asparagus, and purple asparagus is sweeter than both the green and white varieties.
During peak season, asparagus is readily available in supermarkets and farmers markets. Certain regions may provide asparagus throughout the year. Some stores also have canned, jarred, and frozen asparagus available. Canned asparagus does not taste like fresh, jarred, or frozen in any way.
There are no domestic producers of white asparagus in the U.S. The majority of what is found in the grocery store is imported from Peru.
The first blush of spring is the peak of asparagus season, usually February through May in the U.S., and February through June in Europe.
Some people prefer thin asparagus spears, believing them to be more flavorful, while others prefer thick stalks, which they say are more tender. Either way, make sure to choose straight, sturdy stems that have closed, firm tips and even color.
Avoid spears that are limp or have a sharp odor.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an environmental health advocacy and research organization in the United States. From cosmetics to produce, and water to cleaning products, EWG provides insight regarding the impact of pesticides, manufacturing practices, and product ingredients on our health and environment. EWG produces a consumer guide ranking 48 fruits and vegetables with pesticide residue. The higher the rank, the lower the residue. Asparagus is on the EWG’s “Clean Fifteen” list, which means you can enjoy it without concern over pesticides.
It’s best to eat fresh asparagus the same day you purchase it. If you need to store it for a few days, store it unwashed and uncut, wrapped tightly in a plastic bag in your refrigerator crisper. You can also keep asparagus in the refrigerator, covered with a plastic bag and standing upright in a measuring cup filled with an inch of water.
Rinse the spears thoroughly under running water. Give the tips an extra wash if you notice any sand. Snap off the woody ends by holding a spear in both hands and bending at the natural breaking point—or simply cut off about one inch from the bottom. If your asparagus stems are rather thick, use a vegetable peeler to strip away some of tough exterior, especially at the base.
Roasting, grilling, blanching, and steaming are all popular ways to prepare asparagus. It’s also fine to eat raw, especially as an appetizer with a tasty dip, but some people prefer to steam it lightly before adding to salads.
Vitamin K, specifically vitamin K2, is helpful for regulating and directing dietary calcium in and out of the bones. It is also responsible for proper blood clotting and may aid in protecting the arteries from calcification.
B9 (Folate or Folic Acid)
An important nutrient necessary for normal cell division during pregnancy and infancy, folic acid (vitamin B9) plays a powerful role in the developing infant. For adults, vitamin B9 is also essential for proper metabolism, aiding in energy and the production of red blood cells.
A fat-soluble nutrient, vitamin A is involved in the development of rhodopsin, a molecule in the eye that promotes healthy vision. Vitamin A is also responsible for promoting the immune system, cell growth, skin health, and the formation of the heart and lungs as well as other bodily organs.
Far more than protecting the body from the common cold, this immune-system-building vitamin offers a host of benefits. Vitamin C is an important nutrient necessary for collagen production, and is essential for maintaining the integrity and function of skin and bone tissue. Vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant, fighting free radicals and protecting the heart, kidneys, and lungs from disease. This essential nutrient, often found in large amounts in citrus fruits and raw vegetables, may play a role in reducing systolic blood pressure, reducing heart disease risk.
Although commonly described as a mineral, selenium behaves like an antioxidant, helping to reduce the number of free radicals in the body. This may aid in slowing the visible signs of aging, protecting cardiovascular health, and promoting the immune system.
Asparagus contains a bounty of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant nutrients. Therefore, adding asparagus to a regular diet may aid in the prevention of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers, and help slow the aging process. This vegetable also contributes greatly to better digestive health because it’s full of fiber and has a high inulin content, a type of carbohydrate that medical practitioners consider a “prebiotic“.
- There is a museum dedicated to the cultivation, botany, art, and medicinal history of asparagus in Schrobenhausen, Bavaria.
- The people of Egypt first cultivated this member of the lily family about 3,000 years ago. Asparagos is the Greek word for shoot or stalk.
- A popular delicacy in Europe is white asparagus, which is grown underground to prevent it from turning green. Italian farmers created another asparagus variety, the Viola, which is purple.