By Emily Carver, Recent Arizona State University Nutrition Student
Asparagus in the United States is best known for its vibrant green color. You can find them bundled up in groups of nine, in the produce section at the grocery store, typically standing tall hoping to grab your eye, so you can enjoy them later that night.
In Europe, however, there’s another kind of asparagus that gets far more attention – the white variety. Or as the Germans call it “Weiss Spargel,” (pronounced “vice shp-are-guh-l) literally translated means, white asparagus. Each year, Germany has to import up to 10,000 tons more than the 60,000 tons grown in the country, because the demand is so high. There are even asparagus festivals held.
To say they’re obsessed would be an understatement. But what is so special about white asparagus? Is it that much different than the green we know so well?
In short, no. But in long, yes.
White asparagus is handled with care from start to finish. To grow it takes a lot of time, patience, and fortitude, as it’s very labor-intensive. The asparagus stays white thanks to how it’s grown – in the ground. The farmers do everything to ensure it never sees the light of day. Unlike its vibrant green cousin, keeping it from the sunlight prevents the asparagus from creating chlorophyll, and because of this, it won’t turn green. Not only does this keep it white, it also allows the spears, the heads of the asparagus, the chance to become more tender, as well.
When ready to be harvested, the farmers painstakingly remove each stalk by hand, so as to keep the whole asparagus intact. Once removed, they get inspected to determine what class they’ll fall in. The most expensive “Extra Spargel.” The impressive, yet slightly bent “Handelsklasse I” (HK I). And finally, the less-loved “Handelsklasse II” (HK II), which is the least expensive of them all.
This delicacy can be enjoyed until June much in the same way our beloved green variety is enjoyed. Both white and green share very similar nutritional values, with both being fat-free and full of vitamins and minerals essential to a balanced and healthy life, like folate, Vitamin K, C, E and B2 to name a few.
Vitamin K is vital in helping clot our blood.
Folate plays an important role in ensuring our nervous system works properly sending signals throughout our body.
Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that fights against free radicals from breaking down our healthy cells in our body. Left unattended, free radicals can lead to disease and even cancer.
Vitamin B2, also known as Riboflavin, plays a key role in energy production, as well as, assisting other nutrients within the body. What’s most notable about riboflavin that could be alarming at first is its noticeable impact it has on the body. Where green asparagus might give our urine a slight smell, riboflavin changes the color to a bright, highlighter yellow. It’s nothing to be alarmed about if it happens, yet something worth knowing in case you consume vitamin B2.
With either asparagus choice, you can’t go wrong with flavor and nutrition. If you come across white asparagus in the coming asparagus season, look to see if the stalks are straight, firm, and completely white – the extra spargel class. Or bent, slightly purple, and partially broken – the HK I and HKII class – and take some home with you knowing they were harvested by hand by a hardworking farmer.
Some tips for cooking them are:
Naturally bend and break the ends.
Peel away the bitter outer layer.
Gently steam for 10-15 minutes in water and a splash of lemon juice. Topping with a pad of butter and a sprinkle of salt.
Enjoy! Or as the Germans say, Guten Appetit!