Asparagus has been prized by epicures since Roman times!
The name asparagus comes from the Greek language meaning "sprout" or "shoot" and is a member of the Lily family which also includes onions, leeks and garlic. Widely cultivated for its tender, succulent, edible shoots, asparagus cultivation began more than 2,000 years ago in the eastern Mediterranean region. Greeks and Romans prized asparagus for its unique flavor, texture and alleged medicinal qualities. They ate it fresh when in season and dried the vegetable for use in winter.
One could say asparagus is an international food. With its high tolerance for salt and its preference for sandy soils, wild asparagus grows in such diverse places as England, central Wisconsin, Russia, and Poland. Asparagus is depicted in ancient Egyptian writings. Asparagus has also been grown in Syria and Spain since ancient times. In the 16th Century, asparagus gained popularity in France and England. From there, the early colonists brought it to America. Asparagus is often called the "Food of Kings." King Louis XIV of France was so fond of this delicacy that he ordered special greenhouses built so he could enjoy asparagus all year-round!
Asparagus is very versatile. In China, asparagus spears are candied and served as special treats. It is widely popular today as a scrumptious, fresh, and healthy vegetable. People throughout Europe, Asia and North America use fresh asparagus in their favorite cuisine.Some Asparagus FAQ's:Q. How Long is Asparagus in the Ground Before it Can be Harvested?
Asparagus is planted in the ground three years before it can be harvested for the full season. First comes the seed, then comes the plant. Farmers only harvest for a short period of time the first few years to allow for further growth. The mature plant is harvested all season, which typically stretches up to 90 days.Q. Is it True White Asparagus Comes From the Same Plant as Green Asparagus?
Yes, it's true. When the spears emerge from the ground, the sunlight turns the stalks green. To get white asparagus, dirt is piled on top of the plants so that the stalks can grow underground. When the tip breaks the soil surface, the worker probes under ground with his special knife to cut the stalk. This stalk is all white. Q. Is White Asparagus less Nutritious than Green Asparagus?
Studies acquired by the California Asparagus Commission indicate that green asparagus is higher in a number of nutrients. For example, green asparagus contains nearly 3 grams of protein per 100 grams of edible portion while white asparagus contains slightly less than 2 grams. Green asparagus contains nearly twice the amount of ascorbic acid and calcium than white asparagus. Furthermore, green asparagus contains more than twice the thiamin and niacin.Q. How Fast Does Asparagus Grow?
Asparagus will grow 7 inches in a day when the temperatures reach 90 degrees. Some say you can lie on the ground and watch asparagus grow. The asparagus beds are cut every day and the length of harvest is generally 70 - 80 days.Q. Which is the Best Asparagus - Thin or Jumbo?
This is a matter of personal preference. Some people think that jumbo asparagus is old asparagus and is left in the field to get old or fat. Asparagus is harvested every day during the season - the larger sized asparagus comes from younger, more vigorous plants as a rule, while the smaller sized asparagus comes from older plants or plants that have been planted closer together. Swiss and German folks are noted for prizing the jumbo-sized asparagus!Q. How Many Years Does a Commercial Planting Last?
In California, a commercial planting lasts generally eight to twelve years, depending on various factors. Some fields have been known to last longer, and some not as long.Q. Where is Asparagus Grown in the United States?
California produces approximately 70 - 80 percent of the domestic fresh supply in the United States with principal states of Washington and Michigan providing the balance. Washington directs a good portion of their production to processors while Michigan provides nearly all their production to processors, both freezers and canners. Others states also grow asparagus in smaller quantities; however, California, Washington and Michigan are considered the major asparagus growing states.Selecting Asparagus:
- Select bright green asparagus with closed, compact, firm tips.
- If the tips are slightly wilted, freshen them up by soaking them in cold water.
Growing - Harvesting
- Keep fresh asparagus moist until you intend to use it.
- Keep frozen asparagus in the freezer until you are ready.
- Do no defrost before cooking. If the asparagus defrosts, cook it immediately.
- Do not refreeze! Make sure you use the asparagus within eight months.
- Keep canned asparagus in a cool, dry place.
Asparagus is literally the growing shoot of a perennial plant raised in furrowed fields. Commercial plantings take two or more years to become established and require much hand labor in all phases.
Asparagus is harvested when the spears emerge in the springtime. Individual spears are harvested when they are approximately nine inches long with compact, tight heads and good green color. Each day, workers walk the furrows selecting choice spears and cutting them individually by hand.
While the harvest season lasts only 60 to 90 days in each traditional production area, California's wide range of micro-climates allows for fresh asparagus to be available from January through May. A small amount is also harvested in September and October.Asparagus Health Benefits Overview:
Since ancient times, asparagus has been thought to have special healthful qualities. The harvesting of the wild asparagus, famous for their medicinal qualities, was a springtime ritual. These days the ritual is more likely to take place in the produce aisles of the grocery store when California's 116 million pound asparagus crop comes to market.
Asparagus folklore credits the delicious green spears with everything from curing toothaches to being a reproductive tonic. Today we know that just 5 stalks of asparagus is an excellent source of folic acid, a B vitamin that is associated with a decreased risk of neural tube birth defects. Asparagus is also a good source of vitamin C and carotenoids. Our bodies use some carotenoids to make vitamin A, while others are strong disease-fighting antioxidants.
According to the National Cancer Institute, asparagus is the highest tested food containing glutathione, one of the body's most potent cancer fighters. Additionally, asparagus is high in rutin, which strengthens blood vessels.
Quick cooking best preserves the distinctive taste and nutritional bang of asparagus. Asparagus is delicious, beautiful, easy to do ahead for a crowd and packed with nutrients.Packing, Storing and Handling:
Growers and cooperatives grade and pack fresh, green California asparagus in sheds located near the fields, sending it to market within hours of packing.
Shippers use specially-designed asparagus crates to maintain freshness and protect asparagus from damage. A moist, absorbent fiber pad placed on the bottom of the crate helps keep asparagus fresh, and space left at the top allows room for the spears to expand.
Hydro-cooling the boxed asparagus rapidly lowers the temperature to 34 to 37 degrees F (1 to 3 degrees C), the ideal temperature for transport. Careful handling at every stage of transit helps maintain the superior flavor, texture and nutritional content of fresh California asparagus.Selecting:
Select bright green asparagus with compact, firm tips and smooth, tender skin. Try to find even-size spears. Size ranges from small (3/16 inch) to jumbo (14/16 inch). The fat spears are just as tender as the thin ones. Tenderness relates to color, the greener (whiter for white asparagus) the better.Supply:
The California asparagus harvest begins in February, the supply peaks in March and April, then tapers off into June. California growers harvest a smaller crop in September and October. Nearly 80 percent of the 200 million pounds of fresh asparagus grown in the U.S. comes from California.
California asparagus grows on about 34,000 acres of land, from the San Joaquin Delta region to the irrigated Southern California desert. Other U.S. sources for fresh asparagus, shipped commercially, are Washington, Michigan and the Mid-Atlantic States.Asparagus Size
Asparagus is classified according to the following size designations:
- Colossal size means stalks that are not less than 1 full inch in diameter.
- Jumbo size means stalks that are not less than 13/16 of an inch in diameter.
- Extra Large size means stalks that are not less than 10/16 of an inch in diameter.
- Large size means stalks that are not less than 7/16 of an inch in diameter.
- Standard size means stalks that are not less than 5/16 of an inch in diameter
- Small size means stalks that are not less than 3/16 of an inch in diameter.
- "Diameter" measurements shall mean the widest portion of the cross section measured at the largest point of the stalk.
Try fresh asparagus with lemon juice.
Chives, parsley, chervil, savory, tarragon or other spices melted into butter are delicious when poured over asparagus.
Sour cream, yogurt, and mayonnaise are easy toppings.
Medium dry white wines are best with asparagus -look for Chenin Blanc, Fume Blanc or French Colombard.
For puree, soups or salads, break or cut asparagus spears at the tender part and use the trimmed ends that you might otherwise discard. Place them in a covered saucepan and boil until tender. Strain through a sieve or food mill forcing some of the pulp through, or process in a food processor or blender. Use as puree or mix with the cooking water for soups, stews, creamed dishes, or sauces.