Growing up in the country side, we had a pretty extensive garden every year. Asparagus was not on the list of veggies we tended, simply because we had wild ones growing in the woods behind our house, along with fiddleheads and mushrooms. Every spring we would forage for wild asparagus during those short couple of weeks that they’d be there and use them that very night. It’s not until i started doing my own groceries that I wondered why the asparagus tasted strong, was stringy, fibrous and hard to chew. That wasn’t the asparagus I grew up eating!! So, curiosity got the better of me and I started doing some research. Here’s every thing I think you should know about asparagus :)
The reason asparagus grows in the wild is because its actually a perennial plant, we harvest the spears of that plant and call it a vegetable. An asparagus plant needs very wet soil to produce spears and a new plant can take up to two years before producing any at all. The spears rise up through the soil every spring and need to be cut or snapped off while they are young however only a certain amount can be harvested in order the keep the plant healthy and strong. The plant continues to grow and flower (up to 5 feet tall), releasing seeds that fall to the ground and sprout new roots the following year. A single plant can continue to produce for up to 25 years, as long as it has plenty of water and isn’t over harvested. Pretty cool eh!
Once the spears are harvested, they immediately start to loose moisture. Asparagus should always be kept in water, even at the grocery store. I highly suggest you avoid the ones that are merchandised piled on the shelf as they will have a tendency to be more fibrous and difficult to chew and can even have a stronger, more pronounced taste. Instead choose the ones that are standing in a small amount of water, are plump looking and NOT slimy. The crown (top end) of the spears tend to get slimy (and rot faster) if they are packed together tight in a humid environment.
When you get home, never stick them straight into the fridge! Instead trim off the bottom ends and place then in a large glass with about an inch of cold water inside. If its really hot in the house you can put them in the fridge on a lower shelf (higher shelves are usually colder), or simply keep them out on the counter away from the sun. Change the water every day until you’ve used them all, they’ll generally last about a week, maybe longer!
Asparagus come in several colours and can taste a bit different depending on the variant and where they are grown. What are the difference between the varieties? Well, mostly its how they are grown. White asparugus actually grow underground... well actually the farmers cover the spears in multch so that they grow in the dark. Sunlight is what makes asparugus green so white asparagus grow with the abscenec of the sun. They are more fibrous than green asparagus so cooking them will help make them more tender. Purple Asparagus are another variety thought to come from Italy. They have a nuttier flavour and are wonderful raw or cooked. White and purple asparagus are less common in North America, so you,ll most likely only see them in farmers markets or in specialty food stores. No matter which asparagus you choose they are delicious in a ton of recipes!!
Grilled, steamed, blanched, or sauteed... asparagus are a wonderful spring veg that you should definitely enjoy while you can!
Oh, and don’t be alarmed if you notice a strong smell when you pee after eating asparagus… it happens to most of us! This veg is high in asparagusic acid which when digested, breaks down different compounds through the enzymatic process, resulting in smelly pee. The good news is that this process is actually great for removing toxins in your body and can even prevent urine infections and kidney stones! So that smell isn’t such a bad thing after all :)