Sunshine and produce have got to be my favorite things about Spring. Our downtown Champaign farmers market starts THIS Tuesday, and is the perfect excuse to get out and enjoy both. Although there is a variety of wonderful fruits and veggies this time of year, I’m dedicating this post to my personal Spring favorite, asparagus!
Asparagus is native to most of Europe, northern Africa, and Asia. It is actually related to the Lily plant. You have to be patient to start growing asparagus because it takes 2-3 years before you can harvest them to eat! Here, in America, we most commonly eat green asparagus, but it also comes in white and purple varieties. Let’s talk about the differences.
Most of the asparagus you’ll find locally will be green. The green color, like other green plants, comes from the chlorophyll. Asparagus is grown above ground and in direct sun; it is this exposure to sunlight that causes the plant to produce the green color from chlorophyll. It is full of fiber, antioxidants, B-vitamins and iron.
Although not very popular in the U.S., white asparagus is very popular in Europe, especially Germany. It is actually the same species as green asparagus, but the color is different because the plant is grown without light; a process called etiolation. Before the asparagus peaks out of the ground, it is mounded with soil to keep it from sun exposure. Without light, it does not develop chlorophyll, so it never turns green. This process is more labor intensive and is usually more expensive. The flavor is slightly more subtle than its green counterpart, and also has slightly less nutrients.
Purple asparagus is a different variety than green and white that comes from Italy. While the flavor is very similar, it is a bit sweeter than green asparagus because it has 20% more sugar. It is also slightly less fibrous, making it more tender. The purple comes from antioxidant flavonoids called anthocyanins, which are full of health benefits.
Whichever kind of asparagus you prefer, get out and buy some from your local farmers this Spring!