The slender, regal asparagus plant gets it name from the Greek word (asparagos) for “sprout” or “shoot.” Asparagus was a highly sought delicacy in ancient Rome. Emperors maintained special asparagus fleets to gather and transport the choicest spears for the empire. Referred to as the aristocrat of vegetables and dubbed the “food of kings” by King Louis XIV of France, asparagus has enjoyed an international popularity that continues today.
Asparagus is a member of the lily family and thus closely related to garlic, onions, and leeks. The green spears offer an admirable variety of nutrients. Low in fat and high in fiber, asparagus is a good source of iron, vitamin C, and B vitamins—most exceptionally folate.
For a full listing of nutrients, see Asparagus in the National Nutrient Database.
Eating asparagus can cause some people to temporarily excrete urine with an odd smell. About 40 percent of the population has a gene that causes this harmless reaction. The smell occurs when asparagusic acid in asparagus is converted during digestion into sulfur-containing compounds. The odor is usually gone after you’ve urinated a couple of times.
How to Choose and Cook Asparagus
Get tips for selecting the best-quality spears at the market, plus tips for storing, cooking, and serving asparagus.
Types of asparagus
Green asparagus: Green asparagus is the primary asparagus on the market and the only one grown on a commercial scale in this country. Martha Washington and Mary Washington are the principal varieties.
Purple asparagus: A purple variety of asparagus called Viola contains about 20 percent more sugar than other varieties. The large burgundy spears have a creamy, white interior. Tender, with a sweet, mild, nutty flavor, purple asparagus can be used just like other asparagus.
White asparagus: White (actually cream- or ivory-colored) asparagus is planted under heaps of soil, which is piled on the plants as they grow, thereby blocking the sunlight necessary for them to produce chlorophyll. The process yields spears that are more fibrous than the green ones and have a stronger, slightly bitter flavor. While you can find fresh white asparagus in the United States at gourmet food shops and local markets, it remains more popular in Europe. Some domestic asparagus growers, however, cultivate white asparagus specifically for canning.
Published January 11, 2016