Are all asparagus varieties equally healthy?
One of the most power-packed superfoods, asparagus is a uniquely delicious vegetable that’s quick and easy to prepare. Its green is brilliant, its flavour is delicate, and its juicy texture refreshes. It complements so many foods and can be served in so many different ways. And there’s just something classy, something elegant and special about this extraordinary plant.
Once classified as part of the lily family, asparagus was recently re-assigned and is now in its own family, named Asparagaceae. Within this family are many varieties of asparagus, and a number of them are inedible. But Asparagus officinalis, often called garden asparagus, is both edible and delicious.
Asparagus is a flowering perennial, cultivated around the world. If the asparagus shoot is not harvested, the buds eventually produce tall, feathery, fern-like “leaves” growing as tall as 1.5m (six ft). And it grows very quickly.
Much of the asparagus that we eat is green in colour. However two other shades are often found in cuisine: purple and white asparagus spears. The purple is bred to be that colour, though it turns green when cooked. Popular especially in Europe, purple asparagus is smaller and has a fruity taste. It’s higher in sugar content than green asparagus, and contains less fibre.
White asparagus, also a European favourite, is actually the same plant as green asparagus. However, its cultivation is different. As the shoots come up, they are covered with soil and thus grow in darkness. The white stalks are more tender (less fibre!) and less bitter, tasting slightly sweet and nutty. As it’s more difficult to grow and harvest, white asparagus tends to be more expensive.
Wild asparagus, which is a different species (Asparagus racemosus) has a much slimmer stem than the asparagus we buy at the market but also tastes very delicate.
Though it’s 93% water and extremely low in fat, cholesterol, and sodium, asparagus contains tons of vitamins and nutrients. These include Vitamins A (good for eyesight), B6 and other B vitamins, C, E, and K (helps build strong bones, and supports blood clotting and heart health); magnesium, calcium, zinc, selenium (more on this below), potassium, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, iron, copper, and manganese.