In the culinary world, few foods are as synonymous with spring like asparagus. The tender, bright green shoots are generally in season April through May, and with their limited growing season, nutritional portfolio and culinary adaptability, asparagus truly is a remarkable vegetable.
Asparagus is indigenous to the western coast of Europe, and requires slightly salty soil in which to grow. As a perennial, this member of the lily family takes up to three years from the time of planting before the shoots can be harvested. However, once a plant begins to harvest, it can continue producing for as long as twenty years.
Only the young shoots are harvested, and left to grow untended the plant will continue to produce stalks which erupt in fennel like fronds until the plant is a wild looking bush of inedible greenery.
While currently cultivated in many countries, Peru remains the largest exporter of commercially grown asparagus, and Mexico is not far behind. As a result, asparagus can be found almost year round at reasonable prices.
Asparagus health benefits
Nutrition Very nearly a super-food, asparagus is low in all things bad for you and wonderfully rich in all things good for you. Naturally low in calories and both fat and cholesterol free, asparagus is also very low in sodium. Containing one of the highest amounts of folic acid, a single five ounce serving has about 60% of the daily recommended amount of folacin; few vegetables have such a high amount. Asparagus is also a great source of potatssium, fiber and rutin.
Different varieties of Asparagus
The most commonly found variety of asparagus is the green kind, and contrary to wide belief, the thinner stalks are not more tender. In fact, when choosing your asparagus look for wider shoots that are mostly green with only a small amount of pale green or white at the bottom ends.
Considered a delicacy in Europe, white asparagus isn’t a separate variety of the species, but is rather a result of a different growing technique. Grown in the absence of light, the chlorophyll in the plant isn’t allowed to develop and as a result the shoots remain snowy white and tend to be less fibrous in texture. This growing technique is much more labor intensive and results in a higher price for the vegetable.
Purple asparagus on the other hand, can be any number of mutant strains which were bred for their color and are considered to be a separate variety. These plants tend to be less prolific, but the spears are generally larger in size, and the plants themselves tend to be less disease resistant. The purple color lasts only until cooking when the plant reverts back to its green state.