Food is not just something you use to fuel your body. It is becoming more apparent that the phytonutrients that reside in real fruits and vegetables are critical for our sustained health and vibrancy. Think of it as the ‘The Cave Woman Farmacy’ that we can all work with. And, unlike pharmaceutical drugs – farmacy foods taste a LOT better.
Let’s look at Asparagus and see what it is, its history, its health benefits, and how to best prepare it.
Asparagus is a perennial plant that sprouts out of the ground in spring. Although you can find it throughout the year – it really is best April through June. The asparagus plant takes up to 3 years to mature from seed– but, after that you can be harvesting asparagus for 20 to 25 years after the initial planting.
As far as history of the vegetable is concerned – it been pictured in Egyptian art (circa 3000 BC). Romans even dried it for use in the winter. According to Wikipedia – Caesar Augustus coined the expression “faster than cooking asparagus” to mean taking quick action (wonder why that phrase never caught on in modern times!). It’s been considered medicine, an herb and an aphrodisiac (due to its somewhat phallic nature)!
So, with all this history and claims – let’s look at the health benefits of asparagus.
- Asparagus is a good source of fiber. It contains 2.1 g of fiber per serving.
- Asparagus is low in calories and is a good source of the B vitamins folate, thiamin and riboflavin. It is also a great source of Vitamin K.
- Asparagus is also a great source for iron, manganese and zinc. It also contains the trace mineral chromium which improves insulin’s ability to remove glucose from the bloodstream.
- Asparagus also contains a resistant starch known as ‘inulin’. Resistant starches (or prebiotics) have gotten a lot of attention recently as they pass through the upper portion of our digestive tract and act as food for the good bacteria in our gut.
What do you look for when buying asparagus? And, is thin stemmed better than thick stemmed? White vs. green vs. purple?
Generally, asparagus is sold in bundles in most grocery stores or farmers’ markets. You want to look for straight, rounded stalks with small, closed tips. And, ideally – all the stems should be of the same approximate width to ensure even cooking. If the tips are starting to open – it is still edible – but, likely past its prime. Stay away from spears where the bases seem overly ‘woody’, or with tips that are slimy.
As far as thick or thin stemmed. That is a matter of your choice – stem thickness is basically a function of the age of the plant. I prefer the meatiness of the thicker stem version – but, to each their own.
Once you have purchased the asparagus – undo the bunch and store in a paper bag in the humidity bin of your refrigerator. If you want to keep it for more than a day or two – place to stems in a container of water in your refrigerator.
As far as color goes – purple and green asparagus often show up during the same timeframe – and, there is really no nutritional difference between the two (although purple asparagus is generally more expensive and turns green when you cook it anyway).
White asparagus is a different animal – this asparagus is grown in the absence of light so that chlorophyll is not produced. It is therefore, slightly milder – but, it can be prohibitively expensive.
Once the asparagus is clean, cooking asparagus could not be easier – I think the first step (unless you have really thin asparagus) is to peel the stalk. Why? It helps with the cooking process and makes more of the stalk usable. Then, cut off any remaining woody stem.
There are so many ways to prepare asparagus (boiled, steamed, roasted, fried, grilled, and blanched). The technique is up to you. You can also eat them hot or cold.
One particular way I like to eat them is hot with a little olive oil. And, here is the recipe in its simplicity.
2 pounds medium asparagus
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and Pepper
- Preheat the oven to 400oF. Trim and peel the asparagus as noted above. Toss the asparagus in the olive oil and place it on a baking sheet so it is in a single layer. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- Roast for about 15 minutes, gently moving the spears about every 5 minutes to help the asparagus cook evenly. Serve immediately – or, serve when cool.
If you would like to spoon over an additional sauce – mayonnaise with lemon works well – then garnish with dill or parsley.