Asparagus is a tasty, nutritious vegetable with health benefits that make it an excellent addition to any diet! It’s super adaptable to any meal or cooking process, as it can be steamed, blanched, grilled, roasted and added to stir fry or salad. But where can you find it? What does it taste like? And why is it so good for you? No idea how to cook such a funky-shaped item? If that’s the case, we’ve got the answers to all your questions – simply read on! You’re going to love this healthy, adaptable vegetable.
What does it look like?
Known scientifically as asparagus officinalis, asparagus spears typically are bright green pencil-sized stalks with a small, compact head that narrows to a point. Fun fact: the name asparagus comes from a Greek word. Another fun fact: asparagus was once classified as a member of the lily family, but has since been separated. It’s usually sold in bunches wrapped with a rubber band. Green asparagus is the most common type you’ll find, but you may have seen different colors of asparagus, like white asparagus or purple asparagus! While purple and green colors of asparagus are fairly similar, white asparagus is different because it’s actually grown underground. A much more popular choice across the world in Europe, white asparagus can be hard to find fresh in the USA – but you might find it as a canned item if you want to give it a try!
The entire asparagus body looks like a spear, but it’s important to note that you need to snap off the last inch or so of the body, as it can be hard to chew.
What does it taste like?
Asparagus has a unique taste and distinct flavor when compared to other vegetables. The taste of asparagus can be best described as bright and clean with earthy undertones. The flavor is very mild when the spears are fresh. If you’ve ever tried asparagus before and it was bitter or sour, it could be because the asparagus was past its prime or overcooked. Look for fresh asparagus when you’re shopping, and buy in the spring if you can, while it’s in season. Asparagus does a great job of compounding other flavors and absorbs strong flavors such as garlic, vinegar, onion and lemon juice well.
Raw asparagus has a crisp, snappy texture. Like green beans, the texture softens when it’s cooked. If you don’t like the taste of asparagus the first time you try it (some people think it has a too earthy taste), chances are you might like purple asparagus, as it’s known to be sweeter and nuttier.
Why is it good for me?
Tons of reasons! Like most fruits and vegetables, it’s a fact that asparagus is a nutritional powerhouse that’s packed with essential nutrients and antioxidants that help fight free radicals and slow down the body’s aging process. It has a particularly high concentration of vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E and vitamin K. One cup of asparagus actually contains over 100 percent of your recommended daily value (DV) of Vitamin K! Studies have shown that Vitamin K is important because it helps the mineral calcium do its job. Calcium is crucial for bone health, which means asparagus is great for your bones, too! One cup of asparagus also provides 36 percent of your recommended Vitamin A, 24 percent of your recommended Vitamin C, and 14 percent of your recommended Vitamin E, all of which are great for your immune system. It also contains the antioxidant glutathione. Glutathione is one of the most important antioxidants for fighting free radicals and cancer cells. And if all that great vitamin content wasn’t enough for you, it’s also a great source of minerals like iron and potassium – potassium is great for your muscles, so if you’re an athlete, you’ll definitely want this veggie as one of the items in your fridge!
One important vitamin that asparagus is known for is folate, also known as Vitamin B9. Folate is in the B vitamins group, which includes vitamin B6 and vitamin B12. Folate, like vitamin B12, is important for making DNA, which is why folate is such an important thing for pregnant women to consume during their pregnancy. If you don’t love the flavor of asparagus, no worries – it can also be found as folic acid in many supplements (folic acid being the term for man-made folate).
Speaking of acids, asparagus actually has its own: asparagine! Asparagine is a non-essential amino acid that’s named for its source. Studies have shown that asparagine helps with energy production, and the research suggests it could be particularly helpful for delaying fatigue.
If you have a case of high blood pressure, asparagus might be for you. Research has shown that asparagus can help lower blood pressure. In one study, researchers were able to isolate an active compound that appeared to reduce high blood pressure. In addition to lower blood pressure, you’ll benefit from all the powerful antioxidants and essential nutrient content in asparagus, packed into few calories! And last but not least, it contains a prebiotic that promotes probiotic growth.
One thing we should note about asparagus: it’s a natural diuretic. What’s a diuretic? A diuretic is anything, typically food or drugs, that makes you need to relieve your bladder a bit sooner. While that might sound annoying, natural diuretics like asparagus can actually help rid your body of excess salts, as they help your kidneys release more sodium into your urine, and keep your urinary tract clean. So if you’re pairing asparagus with salty, fatty flavors like ingredients like bacon, you can worry less about the salt!
When and where do I get it?
Asparagus becomes available in the very early springtime, starting around March in the majority of the U.S. It will be one of the first things that farmers sell at spring farmer’s markets around the country.
Most grocery stores carry asparagus year round, although when out of season, spears can cost three or more times what they’ll cost during the spring. So get this item in the spring while it’s cheap and fresh! You can store it in a plastic bag in your refrigerator. And like all fruits and veggies, make sure you wash it before you eat it!
How do I prepare asparagus?
Before you do any sort of cooking, the woody base stems of asparagus need to be trimmed off. Those bits are way too hard to chew, even when cooked! Using a sharp knife, cut off about one inch from the cut end of the asparagus and discard (you can also do this by snapping off the end). The remaining stem can be boiled, sauteed, grilled, used in stir-frys and pastas or roasted. Roasting is easy and similar to roasting veggies like carrots or broccoli.
To roast, simply toss the asparagus in a bit of olive oil with salt and black pepper and roast in a 350° oven until the spears are bright green and just barely tender, about 10 minutes. If you want to be adventurous, try adding some garlic, lemon juice or a blend of your favorite spices.
What are some good recipes?
It’s hard to beat fresh asparagus roasted on its own as a side dish, but if you’re looking for something a little fancier, we’ve got a few delicious ideas that will give you a reason to start cooking asparagus today! And for the adults reading, these go way beyond using it as a stirring stick for your bloody mary!.
Asparagus and Cucumber Salad: This meatless, no-cook salad will still fill you up. It’s a perfect meal for a summer day when you don’t want to cook with any heat! There are lots of herbs in this salad, which lend stronger flavor to its veggie base. We recommend adding rotisserie chicken for extra protein.
Spinach Asparagus Quiche: Made with lots of eggs, asparagus and cheese, this quiche is sure to please. It makes 6 to 8 servings, depending on how hungry your people are! If you don’t have brunch plans coming up, this recipe is a reason to schedule them.
Sauteed Asparagus and Broccoli with Parmesan: This simple, healthy side dish comes together in a saucepan in just a few minutes! You won’t need to add many items to your grocery list for this one. Cook the veggies between medium heat and high heat in a little fat (butter and oil), and top with parmesan. The stronger flavors of parmesan, butter and black pepper make these veggies particularly delicious.
Penne with Asparagus and Cherry Tomatoes: This bright, colorful pasta dish couldn’t be tastier, and the tomatoes are a great immune system boost. It’s also simple, as you saute everything in a pan except the pasta, which gets boiled in water, of course. Tip: we recommend using whole grain pasta to sneak in extra grams of fiber and protein. Adding vegetables to pasta helps keep your blood sugar levels more stable, as it packs in extra grams of fiber, and can also help contribute to weight loss.
Baked Salmon and Asparagus in Foil: Is there any easier cooking method than foil packets? Foil is one of the best ways to cook things like fish, as it traps heat to cook the fish without drying it out, and keeps everything in place. Make sure you buy fillets, as foil packs don’t cook an entire fish body very well. Once the foil packs are ready, simply bake at 400 degrees for 25 minutes, and then your meal is ready to eat!
Roasted Asparagus and Mushrooms: This side dish packs in the flavor of rosemary and freshly ground black pepper, but keeps the calories and fat to a minimum. For those on a diet, it’s a tasty and filling way to replace starchier side dishes like mashed potatoes.
Asparagus and Chicken Casserole: Casseroles are a great way to make sure all your friends and family members get a solid meal when they’re at your place. They’re also a great way to make sure you can enjoy the company of other people, while the meal cooks! We’d recommend replacing the sour cream in this recipe with Greek yogurt for a healthy calorie choice, particularly if weight loss is one of your goals. You’ll also benefit from more probiotics!
Asparagus Risotto: Asparagus risotto is a delicious, indulgent way to enjoy any vegetable. Adding asparagus to risotto bulks up the fiber, vitamin and mineral content of this otherwise creamy, starchy rice dish. Have patience – the long cooking time is worth it!
And last but not least, if you’re on a diet and need some healthy recipe inspo, take a look at these 77 healthy asparagus recipes. With 77 to choose from, there’s sure to be something for everyone!