Asparagus is a spring vegetable that grows in thin shoots. Once classified with onions and garlic, asparagus is now considered to be its own classification of plant. Nicknamed sparrow grass, this popular vegetable is enjoyed around the world.
What Does Asparagus Taste Like?
The taste of asparagus has a unique flavor. It has a stronger flavor than green beans yet is a versatile vegetable whose flavor is influenced by what it is cooked or paired with. Fresh green asparagus has a distinct flavor and may be described as having a mild flavor with a grassy taste, a slightly sweet taste, and earthy undertones.
What is Asparagus?
Asparagus is the edible stalks from an asparagus plant. These perennial plants can produce asparagus spears for 12 to 25 years if they are not overharvested, and up to 30 years in the wild. The spears are harvested in the spring while they are still young and tender, although other cultivation methods have been developed to allow growers to harvest asparagus year-round. If the stalks are not harvested, the plant produces its fruit, a small red berry, which is toxic to humans.
Health Benefits of Asparagus
Low in calories but high in nutrients, asparagus is a healthy option. One full cup of asparagus contains 40 calories, 4.5 grams of protein, 0.5 grams of fat, and 3.5 grams of dietary fiber.
Vitamins and Minerals
Asparagus is a good source of vitamins such as B6, calcium, magnesium, and zinc. It is a great source of dietary fiber, protein, beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, thiamine, riboflavin, rutin, niacin, folic acid, iron, phosphorus, potassium, copper, manganese, and selenium. Additionally, asparagus is a good source of chromium, a trace mineral that helps facilitate insulin’s ability to transport glucose from the bloodstream into cells.
Asparagus is also rich in the amino acid asparagine, so much so that the amino acid is named after the plant.
By weight, asparagus contains more glutathione than any other fruit or vegetable. Glutathione is a powerful antioxidant with many health benefits of its own. It increases the metabolism of other nutrients, regulates the synthesis of DNA and proteins, and helps to prevent certain cancers and other diseases.
Varieties of Asparagus
Garden Asparagus or Green Asparagus
The classic green asparagus is easily found at most grocery stores and farmer’s markets when in season. Garden asparagus spears are tender at the flowering tips and slightly woody and thicker at the base.
White asparagus is garden asparagus that has been blanched while the plant grows. Normally, the shoots begin to grow up through the ground, so that part of the stalk is in the soil while the top of the spear is exposed to sunlight, allowing the plant to photosynthesize sunlight and turn green. To produce white asparagus, the tops of the spears are covered in soil, preventing the asparagus from reaching the sunlight and turning green.
White asparagus is popular in Europe and western Asia, where it is sometimes called “white gold,” “edible ivory,” or “the royal vegetable.” White asparagus tastes less bitter taste and more tender, although the bottoms of the stalks must be peeled before cooking.
As the name implies, purple asparagus is a beautiful shade of purple. The purple color comes from high levels of anthocyanins in the spears. Anthocyanins are flavonoids, a type of potent antioxidants with preventative health benefits, including anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.
Purple asparagus has a higher sugar content and lower levels of dietary fiber. The flavor has notes similar to artichoke, and the texture is more tender than garden asparagus.
Technically speaking, wild asparagus and garden asparagus are the same food. They come from the same plant, and the taste is similar. However, wild asparagus has not been manipulated and improved by normal cultivation methods, so it looks a bit different. The stalks tend to be thinner, and the flowering top tends to be significantly wider than the stalk, resembling an ear of wheat. It is a perennial plant that will continue to produce edible stalks for 30 years in the wild, although they can become woody if left on the plant for too long. Despite this, many people enjoy hunting for and harvesting wild asparagus to eat.
How to Eat Asparagus
Asparagus tends to absorb the flavors of the other ingredients it is cooked with, making it a versatile vegetable that goes well with many different foods.
Pickled asparagus is a crunchy and delicious snack. It is often packed with garlic, dill, chili flakes, onions, carrots, or other herbs and veggies for a flavorful and refreshing taste. Pickled asparagus is perfect for an appetizer or snack, paired with roasted chicken or deli sandwiches, or as a beautiful and colorful part of a charcuterie board.
Baked or Grilled
Asparagus is delicious when baked or grilled and lightly seasoned. A delicious and easy appetizer, bacon-wrapped asparagus is a crowd-pleaser. This tasty treat tastes great wrapped in pancetta for a surprising twist. Grilled asparagus with lemon juice or lemon zest and a pinch of salt and parmesan cheese makes a crunchy side dish to a steak dinner or add a handful of baked asparagus to an alfredo pasta.
Boiled or Steamed
Because the spears are often quite long, many people boil the stalks of asparagus while leaving the tops out of the water to lightly steam. Boiled or steamed asparagus is often served with Hollandaise sauce, white sauce, or melted butter or olive oil with parmesan cheese.
Fresh, raw asparagus makes a tasty centerpiece to cold sandwiches, pinwheels, and more. Try wrapping an asparagus spear with a bit of cream cheese in a piece of deli-sliced ham for a quick and easy snack. Or wrap in prosciutto for a saltier bite. Toss a handful of chopped fresh asparagus into your salad for an earthy taste and refreshing burst of flavor.
Soup or Stew
Asparagus can be pureed with cream to create a bright green soup. When pureed, the tougher part of the stems can be used. Some chefs will save the more fibrous parts of the spear, which are normally discarded, and save them to make a creamy soup. Chopped asparagus makes a wonderful addition to meaty stews, and pairs well with chicken or lamb.
Stir-Fried or Sauteed
A wonderful addition to shrimp fried rice or pan-fried noodles, asparagus is an easy way to add greens to a main dish. Sauteed asparagus makes a wonderful addition to risotto. Asparagus pairs well with mushrooms in a stir fry, risotto, or similar dishes.
Asparagus is a delicious and nutritious vegetable with a unique taste that is an excellent side dish, great on its own, or added into another dish. It can be prepared using many different ways and can be found easily in most grocery stores. Although it is low in calories, asparagus is a good source of many vitamins and minerals. It also contains antioxidants with other health benefits, including anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.