Asparagus often gets a bad rap for being a bitter tasting vegetable. This undeserved poor reputation is truly unfair because asparagus is quite tasty when prepared correctly. The bitter taste only occurs when the vegetable is overcooked. So, blame the chef, not the veggie!
Asparagus is a vegetable that looks like spears with bushy crowns. It's available in three colors; white, green and purplish-green. The white variety is most popular in Europe and the green and purplish-green varieties are popular in the United States. Although it doesn't look like it, asparagus is related to lilies, onions, leeks and garlic.
Asparagus has a flavor that is somewhat like a cross between peas and broccoli, with an earthy undertone. All of the three colors of asparagus taste the same, except the white variety has a slightly milder flavor than the other varieties. This vegetable is a nutritional powerhouse. It's rich in fiber, vitamin C, vitamin B-6, vitamin A, vitamin K, folate, thiamine, potassium, phosphorus and iron, and it's low in sodium, low in calories, fat free and cholesterol free. Asparagus is also rich in the powerful antioxidant Glutathione (GSH).
History of Asparagus
Asparagus was first cultivated by the ancient Greeks and Romans over 2,500 years ago. The vegetable gained popularity in France and England sometime during the 16th century. Asparagus was originally brought to North America by the first English and Dutch colonists. It was first planted commercially in California in 1852, but wasn't widely available in the rest of the country until 1919, when the first asparagus cannery in was opened in the state. It wasn't until the mid 1980s that asparagus was shipped from California to the rest of the United States. Today, California produces 70 percent of the asparagus that is eaten in the country.
Selection of Asparagus
You can purchase asparagus fresh, frozen or canned. However, the freezing and canning processes negatively affect the texture of asparagus, so fresh is the recommended choice. When shopping for asparagus, look for smooth and firm spears with tightly compacted bushy tops. Wilted spears and loose tops are signs that the asparagus is old and spoiling. The size of the asparagus is unimportant and doesn't affect the flavor or tenderness.
Storage of Asparagus
Before storing your asparagus, rinse or soak it in ice cold water. Store asparagus in the fruits and vegetable drawer in your refrigerator with the bottoms of the spears wrapped in wet paper towels. Depending on how fresh your asparagus is, it will stay good in your refrigerator for anywhere from four days to three weeks.
Cleaning and Preparation of Asparagus
Cleaning and preparing asparagus is pretty quick and simple. In just a few minutes, your asparagus is ready to cook by following these steps:
- Wash the asparagus under cold running water, using your hands to rub off any dirt.
- If your asparagus has gone limp during storage, soak it in ice water for 10 minutes to firm it back up.
- Cut or peel the bottom one to two inches off each spear. Discard the end cuttings or save them to use to make a nutritious and flavorful soup broth.
- Leave the asparagus spears whole or cut into 1 inch pieces.