Know your Asparagus

Know your Asparagus - Introduction

  • The asparagus, Asparagus officinalis, is a spring vegetable, and is a flowering perennial plant species in the genus Asparagus in the lily family. 
  • A plant may have a life of up to 20 years if cultivated with care.
  • Like its allium cousins, onions and garlic, it is native to most of Europe, northern Africa and western Asia, and is widely cultivated as a vegetable crop.

Know your Asparagus - Common names

  • Asparagus is also called Prussian asparagussparagus, sparrow grass, grass, pru, aspar grass, asper grass, spar grass, and sparrows guts.
  • It is known in French and Dutch as asperge, in Italian as asparago (old Italian asparagio), in Portuguese as aspargo, in Spanish as espárrago, in German as Spargel, in Hungarian as spárga.
  • The Sanskrit name of Asparagus is shatavari, in Kannada, it is known as ashadhi, majjigegadde or sipariberuballi.
  • In Thailand it is known as no mai farang (Thai: หน่อไม้ฝรั่ง), and in Vietnam măng tây which literally means "European bamboo shoots" and "Western bamboo shoots" respectively. 

Know your Asparagus - Origins

  • Earliest records of asparagus cultivation trace it back to Greece some 2,500 years ago. 
  • The Greeks believed that asparagus possessed medicinal properties and recommended it as a cure for toothaches. 
  • It was highly prized by the Romans who grew it in high-walled courtyards. 
  • Asparagus has been grown in England since the sixteenth century (it is not widely cultivated anywhere else in the UK) and during the nineteenth century it caught on in North America and China.

Know your Asparagus - Cultivation

  • Asparagus is a vegetable with long, tender shoots that are generally categorized as white, purple and green varieties. 
  • The shoots of the green or white variety are usually harvested when the stalks reach a height of 8 inches and are 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick.
  • They are always harvested by hand. 
  • The colour of the asparagus is determined by the amount of exposure to sunlight. 
  • This vegetable has small leaves that look like scales tightly packed near the tips, which are especially popular because of their soft to crunchy texture and mild flavor. 
  • The white variety has less flavour then the green or purple. 
  • The purple variety is generally harvested when the stalks reach a height of approximately 3 inches. Once cooked, this asparagus provides a somewhat distinctive fruity flavour.

Know your Asparagus - Cuisine

  • Asparagus can be boiled, steamed, sautéed, grilled, pickled, or served cold. 
  • It makes an enjoyable appetizer, or a good complement to salads, vegetable dishes, and soups. 
  • Asparagus can also be pureed to be used for soups and soufflés.

Know your Asparagus - Harvesting

  • Asparagus is best when in season in Central England that begins in April and runs through June. 
  • Asparagus is harvested throughout the year in one area of the world or another, making it available year round. 
  • It is best when eaten within a couple of days of harvesting so if it needs to be brought in from another area of the world the quality is not going to be as good as it would be if purchased locally, when it is in season in your area and you can purchase it the same day or within a day or two of harvesting.