Asparagus, a delicate, spear shaped green shoot may not have a massive fan following like cacao or berries, but come summer, European foodies go gaga over the unassuming vegetable.
From being considered an aphrodisiac to its use as a diuretic, asparagus has had a long, rich and colourful past spanning more than 2000 years. Ancient Egyptian held it in high esteem as they offered it to their gods. The ancient Romans and Greeks valued it both for its culinary and medicinal properties. Roman Emperor Augustus had a special Asparagus Fleet created to fetch this vegetable. Forgotten in Europe until the Middle Ages, it became a popular delicacy for the wealthy in renaissance Italy, with France and England embracing it in the 1600s. This vegetable is a new entrant in America and barely has a 150-year-old history there.
Today this seasonal plant, a native of Mediterranean region and Asia Minor, enjoys cult status in Europe and the US. Innovative and delectable dishes aren’t the only way people express their love for these tender shoots. Some countries like Germany, Spain, the US and England have annual food festivals with Asparagus as the guest of honour. You can take part in the celebrations at San Joaquin Festival in California, National Asparagus Festival Oceana County in Michigan, British Asparagus Festival in Worcestershire or Beelitzer Spargelfest in Germany. Baden-Württemberg in Germany has an “Asparagus Road” and cycle route that covers all the towns that grow this plant. Despite the cult of asparagus in Europe ironically China and Peru are the world’s largest producers and exporters of this vegetable.
Types of Asparagus
White asparagus is popular in Germany, France, Spain, Belgium, Austria, Poland, Italy, Switzerland, UK and Turkey. As exposure to sunlight gives the stalks a green hue, asparagus shoots are grown underground to get the prominent white colour. White Gold or Edible Ivory is tender and less bitter compared to green ones. You should peel off lower ends of white asparagus before eating it raw or cooking it. The region around Albenga, Italy is home to purple asparagus. The hybrid is not as abundant as green or white, but is much sweeter and delicate. This variety is best suited for salads and loses its colour when cooked for a longer time.
Never mind the strong sulphur smell in your pee, this vegetable is best eaten when the shoots are young and the pinkish buds are still in deep slumber. From creamy soups and salads to grilled wonders and stir-fries, you’ll find asparagus wherever you look.
Taste and flavour apart, every type of edible raw food on this planet has more than one health benefit or medicinal value. How can the asparagus be left behind in the nutrition race?
Being a distant cousin of onion, garlic and leeks, it resembles cucumber with its high water content of 93%. Weight watchers can add it to their fat-fighting arsenal as it is low in calories and contains chromium. It is also a good source of calcium, protein, folate, dietary fibre and iron. This plant food contains good to high levels of vitamins C, E, most B vitamins, amino acids, and antioxidants.
– Asparagus regulates your blood sugar levels. Chromium a, a trace mineral found in this vegetable enhances the ability of insulin hormone. Insulin can effectively convert food into glucose and transfer it from your blood stream to cells which require energy.
– Antioxidants in Asparagus prevent cell damage, slow aging and reduce inflammation. As a rich source of antioxidants that remove toxins from the body, asparagus helps in preventing cellular damage and may slow down aging process.
–This vegetable improves your immunity levels and protects against heart disease. Vitamin C boosts your immune system while folic acid and vitamin B6 protect the heart.
– Asparagus is a brain booster. A study by Tufts University showed lower cognitive decline in older adults with goods levels of vitamin B12 and folate. Asparagus can help you maintain these levels as it’s rich in both compounds.
– Saponins, and in particular diosgenin in this plant improve blood pressure. They help regulates sugar and cholesterol levels in your body.
– Asparagus is a natural diruetic. Asparagine, an amino acid found in this vegetable increases urination and releases excess salts from your body. People who suffer from edema, high blood pressure or heart-related diseases can benefit from this diuretic property.
– The plant can contribute to prevention of certain cancers. It contains glutathione; a phytochemicat that destroys free radicals and carcinogens. Sulforaphane, a lead compound is being used in clinic trials to avoid future use of chemotherapy to treat cancer. Regular consumption may protect you from breast, larynx, lung, bone and colon cancers.
– The vegetable aids digestive health. Inulin, a unique carb found in this plant travels to the large intestine where it encourages the growth of good bacteria. Improved gut health leads to better absorption of nutrients, lower food allergy rates, and reduced risk of colon cancer.
It won’t be wrong to say that an asparagus a day keeps diseases and poor health at bay.
Subscribe here to get a weekly collection of our food stories and recipes to your inbox!
We are not medical professionals and provide this material for your information only. Please do your own research or consult your doctor.