May is National Asparagus Month. If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of enjoying this delicious vegetable, this is a great excuse to start!
Asparagus is a member of the lily family along with leeks, onions, and garlic. There are three kinds of asparagus- green, purple, and white. Green and white asparagus are actually the same plant, only white asparagus is grown underground never seeing sunlight so it never goes through ‘photosynthesis’ and never turns green. Purple asparagus are genetically modified, and actually turn green while cooking. Asparagus is an extremely tasty dish that can be served in many ways, and what’s more, it is quite healthy for you.
A Brief History of Asparagus
Asparagus is on record as one of the earliest vegetables cultivated and its name comes from the Greek language meaning “shoot” or “sprout.” It is thought that the Macedonians consumed it as early as 200 BC, and it appears in the drawings of ancient Egyptian tombs as early as 4000 BC. The ancient Romans and Greeks used it for medicinal purposes. They believed asparagus helped to relieve toothaches and prevent bee stings. Ancient Roman emperors even had “asparagus fleets,” whose only purpose was to gather the best asparagus and bring it back to them. King Louis XIV of France gave asparagus the title of “food of king’s”- or “king of vegetables.” He was also the first to have them grown in greenhouses so he could experience them year-round.
Asparagus and Your Health
One of the reasons people tend to avoid asparagus is because of the often made fun of smell. The truth is the majority of people cannot smell it, only about 25% have the gene needed to detect the smell. Asparagus may not be everyone’s favorite vegetable to have at lunch or dinner time, but there are lots of health benefits that come from eating it.
- There is no cholesterol or fat in asparagus.
- In only five ounces of asparagus you can get 60% of the daily recommended intake of folic acid. Folic acid (folate) can prevent birth defects and heart disease. It can also ease arthritic pain, and prevent urinary tract infections and cancer.
- As it is rich in folic acid, eating asparagus can help to prevent mouth ulcers.
- Recently it has been suggested that consuming asparagus can protect liver cells from the toxins in alcohol and help ease hangovers. Asparagus boosts levels of key enzymes that break down the alcohol.
- As a high-quality source of vitamin-C, asparagus is one of the better foods to consume to keep sperm healthy as well as increase its volume and mobility.
- Asparagus also contains anti-oxidants, which are known to help in the slowing of the aging process.
- For people that are lactose intolerant, asparagus contains a large amount of calcium and can be used as a substitute for dairy.
- It is one of the best vegetable sources for vitamin B2. It is said B2 vitamins can help reduce the occurrence of migraine headaches and how long they last!
- Asparagus is high in asparagine, an amino acid that acts as a diuretic and helps in removing salts from the body. This would be beneficial to people suffering from edema and heart-related issues such as high blood pressure.
- Asparagus is both low in calories and low in sodium.
- Asparagus is an excellent source of vitamin B6, vitamin K and potassium.
Most of the world’s asparagus is grown in and exported from Peru (41%). Mexico comes in second with around 22% and the United States is third at 9.51%. The majority of U.S. asparagus comes from California, Washington, and Michigan. California accounts for 70% of the nation’s asparagus production. Though not one of Arizona’s major crops, there are several farms that grow asparagus locally.
Asparagus spears grow from a crown that is planted about a foot deep in sandy soils. It takes 3 years from the initial crown planting before growers can harvest the crop. In its first season of growth, a crown forms with six inches of root. In the second season, the crown grows into a fern. Asparagus can be harvested in its third year. The crop will reach its prime after 6-8 years and can yield as much as one to two tons per acre when grown commercially. A well cared for asparagus bed can produce for 15-20 years on the original planting, eliminating the need to replant each season. Asparagus can grow up to 10 inches in a single day!
Choosing and Consuming Asparagus
When purchasing asparagus choose firm but tender stalks with good color and closed tips and a uniform diameter, so that they will all cook in the same amount of time. Also, a larger diameter means better quality. Asparagus will lose its flavor quickly, so it is best eaten on the day of purchase.
You can freeze asparagus by following these simple steps.
- Wash asparagus thoroughly and trim the ends slightly.
- Leave spear whole or cut into 2-inch lengths.
- Blanch in boiling water for no more than 2 minutes.
- Cool immediately in ice water.
- Drain well and pack in plastic freezer bags or containers being sure to leave no excess air space. Seal and label.
- Freeze at 0 degrees F.
- For best quality use within 8 months. If it becomes defrosted at any time, cook immediately and do not re-freeze
Asparagus can be eaten raw, however that is not an overly popular method of consumption. There are lots of ways to cook asparagus. Asparagus brings a powerful flavor punch and some added greenery to a stir-fry. You can also boil them. To boil, you should trim the ends slightly and cook in boiling water for 5-8 minutes for a tender and crisp result. Another tasty option would be this recipe found on Fill Your Plate.
- 1 1/2 pounds Red Potatoes, cut into chunks
- 2 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 8 Cloves garlic, thinly slice
- 4 Teaspoons Dried Rosemary
- 4 Teaspoons Dried Thyme
- 2 Teaspoons Salt
- 1 bunch Asparagus
- Pinch Black Pepper to Taste
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. cut up the fresh asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces. In a large baking dish, toss the red potatoes with 1/2 the olive oil, garlic, rosemary, thyme, and 1/2 the kosher salt. Cover with aluminum foil. Bake 20 minutes in the preheated oven. Mix in the asparagus, remaining olive oil (add more olive oil if needed), and remaining salt. Cover, and continue cooking 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender. Increase oven temperature to 450 degrees F. Remove foil, and continue cooking 5 to 10 minutes, until potatoes are lightly browned. Season with pepper to serve. A blend of various colored, small potatoes makes the dish very colorful.
Asparagus season is the spring, so the best time to get it is now! As you can see, asparagus is a great way to eat more healthily, and with some experimentation and time you will find that you have plenty of options when it comes to this versatile vegetable.