Produce Spotlight: The Ultimate Guide to Asparagus
The ground is thawing, warm weather is around the corner and spring vegetables are taking the spotlight this month. In this Ultimate Guide to Asparagus, we will address common questions regarding the crisp green vegetable, including how do you cook the stalks? Is it easy to grow? Is it healthy? Stay tuned to find these answers and discover interesting recipes to try.
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Table of contents
Origin and Growing Information
While once classified in the same family as lilies, new research from organizations such as the Native Plant Trust places Garden Asparagus in the Asparagaceae family. This hardy perennial originated in the eastern Mediterranean.
It was first used in ancient medicine and served to royal leaders. By the 18th century, it was sold in markets across the world to be used for culinary purposes. For more information on the origin, check out Cultures De Chez-Nous, a Canadian producer of agricultural products.
Stems begin to shoot once the soil is above 50°F. Plants do best in mild climates and especially in areas with long winters, like the North East!
First Year Tips
- Asparagus can be tricky to get started but is well worth the wait. It matures at a slow rate, often taking 3 years to reach full maturity.
- Being a perennial plant, once asparagus is established, it will continue to produce for decades, and you will get multiple harvests each spring.
- It is generally grown in a row, and the spears push up out of the earth. Use a gardening knife to cut the stalks at the soil level. The plants will continue to push up new spears through the season.
An area with full sun, well-drained soil, and minimal disturbance and is ideal. Perhaps on the edge of your garden.
- Grow your own asparagus from 1-year-old crowns that were soaked in lukewarm water. This method tends to eliminate the need for constant weeding.
- Find a spacious area and dig a long trench that is 12” wide and 6” deep.
- Place crowns into the trench with 18” between each and cover with 2” of loose topsoil and compost. In areas where available, seaweed is a great mulch for asparagus beds.
- As the plants grow through the season, continue to add more topsoil and compost.
- The plants will produce ferns in the first year.
- Trim these ferns in the winter after the foliage has withered. Note: the ferns can be irritating to the skin so wearing gloves is recommended.
- Re-mulch the area after the ferns have been trimmed.
Harvesting for consumption typically begins in the 3rd season when young shoots start to rise from the ground. Simply cut and collect the stems and wait for the next round of stalks to sprout. The plants will continue to produce a harvest every few days for 3-4 weeks.
Asparagus comes in three colors:
- Green varieties can grow in USDA hardiness zone 4-6.
- White is not a true variety but is grown without sunlight therefore no chlorophyll develops.
- Purple varieties tend to be thicker. They turn green once cooked.
If you live in a colder climate, look for the variety ‘Guelph Millennium’. If you live in a warmer climate, look for either ‘Apollo’ or ‘UC-157’ as a variety. Discover more about growing asparagus from The Old Farmer’s Almanac.
- There are about 2 grams of fiber in a ½ cup serving. Purple and green stalks contain the most fiber.
- Vitamin K & E, as well as multiple B vitamins (Folate, Thiamin Riboflavin, and Niacin), are present in adequate amounts.
- The minerals Iron, Copper, Selenium, Zinc, and Potassium are more concentrated in the top section of the spears.
- The healthy plant compounds in asparagus, specifically Phenols, Flavonoids, and Saponins, offer antioxidant properties and immune support.
More nutrition information can be found on this micronutrient makeup chart, provided by metabolism researchers.
In agreement with the USDA, 1 cup of asparagus contains only 27 calories making it a low-calorie option.
Asparagus and IBS
Asparagus contains a high amount of polyols, an organic compound, which may irritate your gut and cause gas if you have irritable bowel syndrome. Learn more about food interactions and IBS from the World Journal of Gastroenterology.
Overwatering and poor soil drainage is a common reason for yellowing ferns.
Scientists from the journal Metabolites shared their insight and have an answer. When our bodies metabolize a sulfur-containing compound called, asparagusic acid, it can cause urine to have a distinct and pungent odor. This occurrence is totally normal, and 2 out of every 3 consumers can detect the smell.
Low FODMAP: no
Harvested asparagus stalks are not dangerous to pets, but the plant’s ferns are. If you are growing asparagus in your garden, keep pets away from the crops as their foliage is toxic to pets.
Yes, it is safe to eat raw.
Asparagus can be dressed up or served on its own for a tasty meal.
Asparagus Side Dish, Soup and Salad Recipes
This season, make sure to plan on trying my recipe for Grilled Asparagus. Once you make it, and see just how easy it is to get the perfect crisp-tender texture, you will make it over and over again! There are only 5 minutes of prep, and it takes only a few minutes to grill!
If you are wondering the best way to make roasted asparagus without it turning mushy, limp and watery you are in the right place! I am going to show you how to roast asparagus, and a simple way of jazzing it up with just a couple simple ingredients.
Roasted Asparagus and Goat Cheese Salad
Roasted asparagus, chopped hazelnuts and fresh goat cheese bring staying power to this hearty spring salad.
Sesame Roasted Asparagus Salad
Here is a simple sesame roasted asparagus recipe with Asian sesame dressing added right before serving. It can be served hot or let it cool to room temperature for relaxed gatherings
asparagus with tarragon vinaigrette
This recipe for Asparagus with Tarragon Vinaigrette is the perfect make-ahead Spring side dish that is ready in under 30 minutes. The asparagus is cooked and chilled and served with easy to make tarragon salad dressing.
Shaved Asparagus Salad
Here is a delicious springtime salad made with ribbons of shaved asparagus and romaine lettuce tossed with dill shallot vinaigrette. It is topped with hazelnuts and fresh goat cheese and is ready in only 20 minutes.
Behold springtime in the form of a beautiful salad. This spring salad with radishes, peas, asparagus tips, hard boiled eggs, bacon and creamy yogurt dill dressing is a feast for the eyes and a treat to eat!
Cheesy Asparagus Gratin
A 5-min appetizer (or side dish)! Simply roast your asparagus with desired herbs, top with cheese and bake until cheesy goodness!
Sautéed Asparagus with Morels
This saute from Simply Recipes includes green garlic (shallot can be subbed) fresh or dried morel mushrooms and fresh asparagus cooked in olive oil and butter. We think it would pair well with chicken or fish or even poached eggs and toast!
Roasted Garlic and Asparagus Soup Recipe
This recipe for Roasted Garlic and Asparagus Soup from Diethood is deliciously creamy, yet healthy and easy to make! It has roasted garlic and asparagus with cream. It is made with vegetable broth so it is vegetarian too!
Asparagus Dinner Recipes
One Pot Chicken and Rice with Spring Veggies
This 30 minute recipe for One Pot Chicken and Brown Rice with Spring Veggies is favorite weeknight meal for my family. My kids loved it! And I was so happy because it’s whole-grain and each portion has two servings of vegetables and lean protein. It’s a complete meal and there’s only one pot to wash! It’s gluten-free and only 264 calories per serving.
If you think of asparagus as only a side dish, think again! It can be the star of the dinner table when used as a pizza topping! I’ve paired it with pesto, Italian cheeses and crispy prosciutto for a fantastic 30 minute dinner!
Here is a recipe for warm Asparagus Panzanella with a runny-yolk poached egg on top. This vegetarian entree is perfect for a brunch entree or a busy weeknight dinner in spring. It comes together in under 30 minutes!
Prosciutto-Wrapped Chicken with Asparagus
This skillet dinner from The Food Charlatan caught our eyes. The prosciutto wrapped chicken is sauted to golden perfection. Then finished with tender asparagus and pesto cream!
Frittata with Ham and Asparagus
This Frittata with Ham and Asparagus is the perfect Spring meal! Ready in just 20 minutes and full of 23 grams of protein. AND you can eat it for breakfast, lunch or dinner. See, like I said… perfection!
5-Ingredient Bacon Asparagus Pasta | Gimme Some Oven
This 5-Ingredient Bacon Asparagus Pasta is super easy to make, and full of absolutely amazing flavor!
Cheesy Asparagus Tart
This recipe from What's Gaby Cooking is a super simple asparagus and gruyere tart to celebrate spring!! It's made with store bought puff pastry so it'll be ready in no time! Serve it for dinner or brunch!
One Pan Lemon Parmesan Chicken and Asparagus
Here is a recipe from Chelsea's Messy Apron for One Pan Lemon Parmesan Chicken and Asparagus. It is made up of lightly breaded garlicky lemon parmesan chicken and asparagus all cooked on one pan. How simple and festive!
It is a common misconception that thinner asparagus stalks are better than the fatter ones, but anyone who has had fresh from the garden asparagus knows that the best kind of asparagus is that which was just picked!
Look for asparagus that is free of dents and blemishes or with yellowed spears. If possible, choose a bunch where the ends of the spears are not dried out (a sign that they were not recently harvested.)
Asparagus is sold by the bunch, which are roughly about 1 pound each.
The bottom of the stalks are fibrous and not tender. Snap the asparagus where it naturally breaks, and compost the bottom part.
It is not necessary to peel the bottom of the stalks, but it is often seen in fine dining restaurants. If you like the way it looks, use a sharp vegetable peeler to peel the base of each stalk, about 1/4 of the way up the stalk.
How To Cook Asparagus
The key to cooking asparagus is to not overcook it. The texture is best when it is crisp tender. If it is overcooked it turns army green and the texture and flavor is mushy and unpleasant.
I recommend the following three methods for cooking asparagus.
Steaming or Boiling: This is a great way to cook asparagus for serving with hollandaise or for serving chilled with vinaigrette. Steam or boil for 3 to 4 minutes and serve immediately or shock in an ice bath.
Grilling: Grilling asparagus is very simple and adds a nice smoky flavor. I like to use a vegetable grilling basket for my asparagus to prevent it from slipping between the grates. Grill for 2 to 4 minutes per side depending on how thick your spears are.
Roasting: Roasting is a great option when the weather isn’t nice enough to grill, but still provides a yummy caramelized flavor. Roast it at 450 degrees F for 12 to 15 minutes.
Thank you for reading. If you have any additional questions, please leave a comment below. Please be sure to check out our other Produce Spotlights to learn more.
Interesting that the good compounds are concentrated in the top of spears — that’s my favorite part to eat too
I eat asparagus often for breakfast! Glad to know they are so healthy, especially a source of vitamin K.
This is so handy! Pinning to reference later. Thanks!
My favorite vegetable. Thanks so much for all the amazing info!
One of my fave veggies ever and I didn’t know half of the things in here ! Thanks for the info!!