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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Origin and growing information
Where did asparagus originate?
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.
When is it in season?
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!
How do the stalks grow?
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.
What conditions are best?
An area with full sun, well-drained soil, and minimal disturbance and is ideal. Perhaps on the edge of your garden.
How to plant asparagus?
- 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.
How to take care of the plants?
- 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.
Why do asparagus ferns turn yellow?
Overwatering or poor soil drainage is a common reason for yellowing ferns.
How do you harvest asparagus?
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.
Which color should I look for?
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.
What are the health benefits?
- 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.
How many calories does it contain?
In agreement with the USDA, 1 cup of asparagus contains only 27 calories making it a low-calorie option.
Why does it make your pee smell?
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.
Can you eat asparagus raw?
Yes, it is safe to eat raw.
Does it cause gas?
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.
Can you eat asparagus when following a certain diet?
- Keto: yes
- Paleo: yes
- Whole30: yes
- Low FODMAP: no
Is it toxic to pets?
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.
Asparagus can be dressed up or served on its own for a tasty meal.
- Grab a big bunch of green stalks and try making asparagus with tarragon vinaigrette or a sesame roasted asparagus salad. Both of these flavorful vegetarian options, require minimal ingredients and can be made in under 30 minutes.
- If you want to step up your salad game, this roasted asparagus and goat cheese salad or shaved asparagus salad with goat cheese and hazelnuts are excellent options to serve.
- A frittata with ham and asparagus or an asparagus Panzanella with poached eggs are fantastic go-to dishes for Sunday brunch.
- Who said bread pudding is a dessert food? This Easy ham and asparagus bread pudding is a unique twist on the classic recipe and is sure to satisfy your whole family.
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.
Hungry for more? Bookmark my 35 healthy asparagus recipes page, which contains over a month’s worth of recipes to try.
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.