Asparagus is a tremendously versatile vegetable. Whether smothered in our nearly guilt free velvety mock hollandaise, pureed in soup, or sliced in a simple salad, the possibilities are deliciously endless. But there’s more to it than the end product. Here, we look at nutritional facts, how it grows, three varieties, how to choose and store it.
Asparagus Nutritional Facts
• 5mg of sodium and 310mg of potassium per cup (180g).
• 88.2mg of phosphorus and 5.3 grams of protein per cup (180g).
• Each spear contains only 4 calories, plus, asparagus is a good source of folic acid, fiber and vitamins.
One of the more enchanting things about asparagus is the way it grows. A crown planted about a foot deep sends spears up for harvest. In the cooler early spring, it may take 4-5 days between harvests. As the days and nights get warmer, a spear can grow as fast as 10 inches per day. If the spears aren’t picked, they become woody and grow out into ferns – hence, asparagus fern.
Asparagus Colors: Green, White & Purple
The most common type of asparagus is the green variety. However, white asparagus is very popular in Europe, where it’s known as “the royal vegetable.” Though less bitter and more tender, it’s the same botanical variety as green. So how does it grow white? By “blanching” – manually covering the spears with a mound of dirt. This deprives the plant of sunlight, preventing photosynthesis and the production of chlorophyll, producing white spears. I can only imagine what a pain-staking job this is. But, the added labor explains why white asparagus is more expensive.
Purple asparagus, or Violetto d’Albenga, was originally developed in Albenga Italy. With higher sugar content and less fiber than green, purple asparagus makes a great accent in salads and is my personal favorite. The purple color is retained during brief cooking, but keep in mind that if you cook it too long, it will turn green
Selecting, Preparing & Storing Asparagus
Spears are best when straight, firm, vibrant green and the tips tightly closed. Dull green and/or limp looking spears are aged. Thicker spears may have a fibrous layer of skin at the base. Rather than cutting the section off, the skin can be peeled for more tenderness and quicker cooking. White asparagus tends to have fibrous skin, so it’s most delectable when gently peeled prior to cooking. Peel from just below the head, down to the stem.
Asparagus is best used within two to three days of purchase. With a higher respiration rate than many vegetables, it can lose water content and wilt more quickly. For proper storage, clip about a ¼-inch off the bottoms and place in an upright container, stems submersed in one to two inches of water. Or, wrap the stems in a moist paper towel and store in a plastic bag.
When you’re ready to indulge, try steamed asparagus with our fabulous and nearly guilt free low-sodium, no egg yolk (and olive oil based) velvety mock hollandaise sauce .