Asparagus, or garden asparagus, folk name sparrow grass, scientific name Asparagus officinalis, is a spring vegetable, a flowering perennial plant species in the genus Asparagus.
Asparagus is a young tender shoot (spear) vegetable, emerging out from its underground root system. The flavorful spears are a favorite spring season delicacies. Their use as food was well recognized by the ancient Greeks and Romans as a prized delicacy. One of the oldest recorded vegetables, it thought to have originated along the coastal regions of eastern Mediterranean and Asia Minor regions.
Botanically, it is a herbaceous perennial plant belonging to the Asparagaceae family. It is closely related to the Liliaceae plants which also include onion, garlic, tulip, daffodil…etc. Scientific name: A. officinalis. This spear vegetable is grown extensively nowadays as a major commercial crop in China, Europe, Peru, Australia, and the USA.
Asparagus crowns planted in early spring. It grows into tall, branched stems, bearing fine fern-like green needles (phylloclades); giving the whole plant an overall feathery appearance. The fresh crop can also be established by direct seeding or through transplanting 10-12 week-old seedlings. A fully-grown plant reaches about 5 feet in height. Young scaly edible spears emerge from the underground extensive matted root systems, which can be ready for harvesting by early spring.
In general, 7 to 9 inches tall young shoots are harvested by either snapping or using a paring knife, cutting close to the ground level. There is no need to cut asparagus shoots far below the soil with a knife, which might injure other erupting buds on the crown. The stump that left in the ground after snapping dries up and disintegrates.
Warm weather would adversely result in premature opening up of spear tip that might reduce their overall flavor and quality. Asparagus is harvested once a year for over 8 to 10 week period in a season.
White or blanched asparagus (spargel) spears reaped by heaping up surrounding soil around the erupting shoots, depriving them of sunlight. This method, like in endive, makes the shoots turn pale through inhibition of photosynthesis. Often, these blanched spears preferred over dark ones in the Europe due to their pleasant taste and delicate flavor.
Only young asparagus shoots are commonly eaten: once the buds start to open (“ferning out”), the shoots quickly turn woody.
Water makes up 93% of asparagus’s composition.Asparagus is low in calories and is very low in sodium. It is a good source of vitamin B6, calcium, magnesium, and zinc, and a very good source of dietary fibre, protein, beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, thiamin, riboflavin, rutin, niacin, folic acid, iron, phosphorus, potassium, copper, manganese, and selenium, as well as chromium, a trace mineral that enhances the ability of insulin to transport glucose from the bloodstream into cells. The amino acid asparagine gets its name from asparagus, as the asparagus plant is relatively rich in this compound.
The shoots are prepared and served in a number of ways around the world, typically as an appetizer or vegetable side dish. In Asian-style cooking, asparagus is often stir-fried. Cantonese restaurants in the United States often serve asparagus stir-fried with chicken, shrimp, or beef. It may also be quickly grilled over charcoal or hardwood embers, and is also used as an ingredient in some stews and soups. In recent years,[when?] asparagus eaten raw, as a component of a salad, has regained popularity.
Asparagus can also be pickled and stored for several years. Some brands label shoots prepared in this way as “marinated”.
Stem thickness indicates the age of the plant, with the thicker stems coming from older plants. Older, thicker stalks can be woody, although peeling the skin at the base removes the tough layer. Peeled asparagus will poach much faster.The bottom portion of asparagus often contains sand and soil, so thorough cleaning is generally advised before cooking.
Green asparagus is eaten worldwide, though the availability of imports throughout the year has made it less of a delicacy than it once was. In Europe, however, the “asparagus season is a highlight of the foodie calendar”; in the UK this traditionally begins on 23 April and ends on Midsummer Day. As in continental Europe, due to the short growing season and demand for local produce, asparagus commands a premium price.
Asparagus has been used as a vegetable and medicine, owing to its delicate flavour, diuretic properties, and more. It is pictured as an offering on an Egyptian frieze dating to 3000 BC. In ancient times, it was also known in Syria and in Spain. Greeks and Romans ate it fresh when in season, and dried the vegetable for use in winter; Roman Epicureans even froze it high in the Alps, for the Feast of Epicurus. Emperor Augustus created the “Asparagus Fleet” for hauling the vegetable, and coined the expression “faster than cooking asparagus” for quick action. A recipe for cooking asparagus is in the oldest surviving book of recipes, Apicius’s third-century AD De re coquinaria, Book # 3.
The ancient Greek physician Galen (prominent among the Romans) mentioned asparagus as a beneficial herb during the second century AD, but after the Roman empire ended, asparagus drew little medieval attention. until al-Nafzawi’s The Perfumed Garden. That piece of writing celebrates its (scientifically unconfirmed) aphrodisiacal power, a supposed virtue that the Indian Ananga Ranga attributes to “special phosphorus elements” that also counteract fatigue. By 1469, asparagus was cultivated in French monasteries. Asparagus appears to have been hardly noticed in England until 1538, and in Germany until.
The finest texture and the strongest and yet most delicate taste is in the tips. The points d’amour (“love tips”) were served as a delicacy to Madame de Pompadour. Asparagus became available to the New World around 1850, in the United States.
9 Amazing Benefits
- Asparagus is a very low-calorie vegetable. 100 g fresh spears carry just 20 calories.
- Besides, its spears contain moderate levels of dietary fiber. 100 g of fresh spears provide 2.1 g of roughage. Dietary fiber helps control constipation conditions, decrease bad (LDL) cholesterol levels by binding to it in the intestines and regulate blood sugar levels. Studies suggest that high-fiber diet help cut down colon-rectal cancer risks by preventing toxic compounds in the food from absorption.
- Its shoots have long been used in many traditional medicines to treat conditions like dropsy and irritable bowel syndrome.
- Fresh asparagus spears are a good source of anti-oxidants such as lutein, zeaxanthin, carotenes, and cryptoxanthins. Together, these flavonoid compounds help remove harmful oxidant free radicals from the body protect it from possible cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, and viral infections. Their total antioxidant strength, measured regarding oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC value), is 2150 µmol TE/100 g.
- Fresh asparagus is rich sources of folates. 100 g of spears provide about 54 µg or 14% of RDA of folic acid. Folates are one of the essential co-factors for the DNA synthesis inside the cell. Scientific studies have shown that adequate consumption of folates in the diet during pre-conception period and early pregnancy helps prevent neural tube defects in the newborn baby.
- Its shoots are also rich in the B-complex group of vitamins such as thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine), and pantothenic acid. These group of vitamins is essential for optimum cellular enzymatic and metabolic functions.
- Fresh asparagus also contains fair amounts of antioxidant vitamins such as vitamin-C, vitamin-A, and vitamin-E. Regular consumption of foods rich in these vitamins helps the body develop resistance against infectious agents and scavenge harmful, pro-inflammatory free radicals from the body.
- Its shoots are also an excellent source of vitamin-K. 100 grams carry about 35% of DRI. Vitamin-K has potential role bone health by promoting bone formation activity. Adequate vitamin-K levels in the diet help limiting neuronal damage in the brain; thus, has established a role in the treatment of patients with Alzheimer’s disease.
- Asparagus is an excellent source of minerals, especially copper and iron. Also, it has small amounts of some other essential minerals and electrolytes such as calcium, potassium, manganese, and phosphorus. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that helps controlling heart rate and blood pressure by countering effects of sodium. Manganese used by the body as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase. Copper required in the production of red blood cells. Iron is essential for cellular respiration and red blood cell formation.