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The Asparagus, A Genius In The Kitchen

Asparagus is a very old medicinal plant – but of course, also a noble vegetable that delights asparagus fans in spring. Whether asparagus soup or asparagus risotto: the vegetables turn every dish into a delicacy. We introduce asparagus and all its special features, its nutritional values, its special ingredients, its healing effects, and much more. You will also find out why you should look out for plastic-free asparagus when buying asparagus and, of course, how you can prepare the asparagus in a tasty and healthy way.

Asparagus – Wild or cultivated

Asparagus is considered a very special vegetable. It’s versatile, healthy, and not cheap. By the way, real chefs are able to prepare asparagus tasty with as few ingredients as possible. The Roman senator and general Lucius Licinius Lucullus, known for his grandiose banquets, said: “Only someone can cook who succeeds in serving up asparagus without any ingredients in the most blissful perfection.” This advice from the famous gourmet should also be heeded today because all too often healthy vegetables are drowned in hollandaise sauce or other high-fat sauces.

What does “asparagus” mean?

The term asparagus means nothing more than a young shoot. Therefore, if left unharvested, the stalks would develop into branching stems with pinnate leaflets, small yellow flowers, and subsequently scarlet, slightly poisonous berries. The asparagus genus includes over 200 species, but only a few of them are edible. These include the pointed-leaved asparagus, which grows wild in the Mediterranean region, or the vegetable asparagus that we are familiar with and which the ancient Romans cultivated with great dedication.

White, green, and violet: asparagus spears demonstrate the diversity

For a long time, only green asparagus was eaten, because the bleached or white asparagus was only “discovered” in the 19th century. This happened by accident, as clay caps had been put over the asparagus shoots to protect them from animals. Due to the lack of light, no chlorophyll was then formed in the spears, leaving the vegetables white.

Since white asparagus – also known as white asparagus – tastes very delicate and mild, it quickly found many followers. Since then, the green spears have largely been dispensed with – and asparagus is almost exclusively grown underground. Because of the high price, white asparagus is also known as white gold.

There are also purple asparagus. The striking coloring is due to the spears not being pricked straight away and getting about a day more sun exposure.
Purple asparagus tastes spicier due to these natural colorings and are particularly popular in France.

From the bitter plant to the delicious vegetable

Long before asparagus became popular as a food, it was valued as a medicinal plant. In China, Greece, and Egypt, a wide variety of wild asparagus species were already cultivated thousands of years ago, e.g. B. used for coughs, bladder problems, and ulcers. All parts of the plant were used, especially the roots, but also the shoots, leaves, flowers, and berries.

Our vegetable asparagus was prescribed by doctors up until the 19th century, which today is only remembered by its Latin name “Asparagus officinalis” (medicinal asparagus). The Asparagus racemosus, native to India, is also known as the “healer of a hundred diseases” and is still used in Ayurvedic medicine, e.g. used for gastric ulcers and nervous disorders.

According to researchers from HNB Garhwal University, asparagus has antioxidant, immune-stimulating, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties, can increase fertility, and prevent or eliminate liver damage.

Stem vegetables only became flattering for the palate after the ancient Romans were able to reduce the very bitter taste through breeding. This was the birth of the delicious vegetable asparagus. Due to its labor-intensive culture, only rich people could afford it for a long time, and even today it is not exactly one of the cheapest types of vegetables. However, its taste and numerous health benefits are more than make up for the price.

The nutritional values, vitamins, and minerals in asparagus

Asparagus consists of 94 percent water and, with its 18 kilocalories per 100 grams, is one of the particularly low-calorie vegetables. The health value of vegetables is also determined by the numerous micronutrients present.

Do colorful varieties contain more nutrients?

Green and purple varieties contain higher amounts of nutrients than white asparagus. Analyzes have shown that green sticks are better suppliers of protein and certain micronutrients such as iron, copper, magnesium, phosphorus, and vitamin C. White asparagus, on the other hand, contains a little more carbohydrates. However, the deviations in nutrients are not as serious as is often proclaimed.

More antioxidants and vitamin C in colorful asparagus

The situation is different with the secondary plant substances. Because here the green and the purple asparagus are clearly in the lead. According to a study conducted in 2016, not only the variety but also the cultivation method has a big impact on the antioxidant potential. Green asparagus not only contains more vitamin C but also a much higher content of secondary plant substances. Greek researchers came to the same conclusion when comparing purple to white asparagus.

The green and violet asparagus owe their colorful dress to the chlorophyll (leaf green) and the red-blue anthocyanins. According to studies, while chlorophyll e.g. Detoxifying and protecting the liver, anthocyanins lower the risk of type 2 diabetes, dementia, and cancer.

More vitamin C in the asparagus tips

When the spears stick their heads out of the ground and come into contact with sunlight, pigments and more vitamin C are formed. For this reason, the tips of white asparagus are often slightly green or purple in color. The content is always highest in the tips and decreases continuously towards the end of the rods.

The breakdown of ingredients such as vitamin C and secondary plant substances is less rapid in light-colored varieties after harvest than in colored ones. All in all, asparagus is – regardless of color – a very healthy vegetable.

Inulin protects against diseases

Although the fiber content in asparagus is not very high, it does contain a very special fiber, inulin, a substance that is considered a prebiotic, which means that it serves as food for the beneficial intestinal bacteria and thus has an extremely positive effect on the intestinal flora.

When the gut bacteria metabolize inulin, short-chain fatty acids are formed. These have an anti-inflammatory effect and help regulate fat and sugar metabolism. At the same time, regular inulin intake inhibits the desire to feast and increases the feeling of satiety, which can help with weight loss.

Studies have therefore also shown that inulin or short-chain fatty acids reduce the risk of numerous ailments such as e.g. E.g. obesity, constipation, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attack, colon cancer, and bone diseases.

Asparagus activates love life

Even the shape of the asparagus could provide food for many relevant fantasies. For this reason, it was assumed for a long time that asparagus was said to have aphrodisiac properties simply because of its phallus-like appearance. But Ayurvedic medicine is of the opinion that, in addition to a general increase in vitality, vegetables can have an encouraging effect, especially in love affairs, since rod-shaped vegetables increase blood circulation in the urogenital tract.

It is probably also its vital substance content that explains the stimulating effect. Vitamin E, for example, directly activates the production and release of sex hormones. For this reason, people with chronic fatigue syndrome probably benefit from including vegetables in their diet more often.

The draining effect

Asparagus is known for its dehydrating effect. L-aspartic acid is said to be responsible. This amino acid promotes kidney activity and boosts water excretion. In traditional medicine, the stem vegetable is therefore often used for cystitis in the form of a flushing therapy and as a preventive measure to prevent the formation of kidney gravel.

It is crucial to ensure that you drink enough fluids during treatment. The diuretic properties of asparagus are particularly effective when they are drunk in the form of juice or when they are cooked in broth.

However, people with high uric acid levels, kidney problems, or impaired heart and kidney function should avoid larger amounts of asparagus or consult their doctor or alternative practitioner.

Asparagus detoxified

Like avocados, asparagus is a glutathione-rich vegetable. There are around 28 milligrams in 100 grams, and 30 milligrams in the same amount of avocado. Glutathione is one of the strongest antioxidants and therefore helps to detoxify pollutants and reduce oxidative stress levels.

A study at Jeju National University in South Korea has shown how asparagus reduces hangover symptoms by protecting liver cells from the toxic effects of alcohol.

Further studies also suggest that glutathione reduces the risk of cancer, eliminates existing cancer cells, and can even have positive effects on Alzheimer’s.

Saponins act against diseases

In addition, there are various secondary plant substances in asparagus. The saponins are partly responsible for the typical asparagus taste and are among the most important bioactive substances in the vegetable. They have numerous medicinal properties and act e.g. B. strengthening, expectorant and expectorant, anti-inflammatory, diuretic, and hormone-stimulating.

A study at Rutgers University in New Jersey has shown that the saponins present in asparagus clearly have anti-tumor activities and could irreversibly stem the growth of human leukemia cells. And not only that: but also against fungal diseases. B. in a Candida infection, the asparagus saponins work.

However, the saponin content varies greatly depending on the variety and the growing conditions. 100 grams of asparagus contain between 46 and 128 milligrams. Some saponins taste strongly bitter. For a long time, the vegetables were therefore cooked with sugar to neutralize the bitter substances.

However, this is hardly practiced anymore, since asparagus that has turned out too bitter is usually excluded from sale prematurely. If the vegetables still taste bitter, this is e.g. due to the fact that the sticks were cut improperly, i.e. too close to the very saponin-rich rootstock.

Why does the urine “asparagus”?

Have you noticed a pungent smell of urine when you go to the toilet after eating asparagus? Then you belong to that 40 percent of people who lack a certain enzyme. Otherwise, this enzyme would break down the sulfur compound called aspartic acid, preventing the typical odor.

Another variant is that the smell is present but not perceived. According to studies, both phenomena are genetically determined.

In any case, you don’t have to worry because this smell is harmless and does not indicate illness or poisoning. If you drink a lot of liquid when eating asparagus, the strong smell can be reduced. In addition, the sulfur compounds in asparagus are valuable for health, as they z. B. help to regulate cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and blood sugar and prevent cardiovascular diseases.

Rely on regionality!

In Germany, the largest asparagus producer in Europe, asparagus is the most commonly grown outdoor vegetable. Around 80 percent of the vegetables come from local growing areas such as Lower Saxony and North Rhine-Westphalia. The old farmer’s rule “Cherries are red, asparagus are dead” heralds the end of the asparagus season on June 24th, so that the plants can recover until the next season (which starts in mid-March at the earliest).

So that the vegetables can also be offered out of season, 20 percent, e.g. B. imported from Greece and Spain or even flown in from Peru. Peruvian asparagus is offered extremely cheaply – but at what actual price? According to experts, transport by plane produces 28 times more CO2 than regionally grown asparagus.

In addition, the cultivation in the dry regions of Peru uses a lot of water, which the locals would urgently need. According to the Autoridad Nacional del Agua (National Water Authority), more than three-quarters of all agricultural land will experience extreme water stress over the next ten years. It is therefore also a question of ethics to rely on regional asparagus.

Organic asparagus is healthier

Although the maximum permitted amounts of pesticides are rarely exceeded with asparagus, it is still better to rely on organic vegetables. Between 2010 and 2013, the chemical and veterinary investigation office in Stuttgart analyzed 116 asparagus samples for residues of over 650 pesticides.

Although these tests did not reveal any exceedances of the MRL, 56 samples were contaminated with residues of various active substances, of which 11 samples showed multiple residues. It should also be said that 39.5 percent of German and 75 percent of Peruvian asparagus contained pesticides.

A Korean study also showed in 2018 that organic asparagus contains more bioactive substances than conventionally grown vegetables.

In addition to the use of pesticides, the mulch films are another problem when growing asparagus, which unfortunately also applies to organic asparagus.

95 percent of asparagus farmers use plastic films

According to a report published in April 2018 by Stiftung Warentest, a full 95 percent of asparagus farmers in Germany now use mulch films to increase yields. An average of seven running kilometers of foil are required per hectare.

Transparent films or anti-dew and thermal films ensure that the soil warms up more quickly, which means that the harvest can start earlier. The black films, on the other hand, are intended to prevent the asparagus tips from getting sunlight and turning green or purple, as this – for whatever reason – is viewed as a quality defect.

For years, environmentalists have warned against using mulch films, which are often made from hazardous materials such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC) that contain plasticizers and chlorine. Toxic substances are released during the production, use, and disposal of PVC, and carcinogenic dioxins are formed when it is burned.

The Association of Southern German Asparagus and Strawberry Growers asserts that mulch films can be used and recycled for up to twelve years. It is questionable whether recycling will take place since the majority of our plastic waste is simply shipped to other countries such as China, where recycling is a foreign word anyway.

Mulch films: A danger to insects and birds

The Brandenburg Nature Conservation Union (NABU) and the Brandenburg Green League are demanding an immediate ban on the use of foils when growing asparagus. Christiane Schröder, State Director of NABU, stated that growing asparagus under plastic has a devastating effect on insects and birds.

In the middle Havel lowland bird sanctuary around the Beetzsee in Brandenburg, 23 bird species have now died out locally. This also includes strictly protected species such as the red kite and the barred warbler. This can be attributed to the fact that asparagus fields covering an area of 500 hectares have been covered extensively with foil for ten years.

The Ministry for Rural Development, Environment and Agriculture (MLUL) already recognized in July 2016 that around a quarter of the asparagus cultivation areas in Brandenburg are located in European bird protection areas, which has already led to a deterioration in the conservation status of the area. Nonetheless, the government has so far done absolutely nothing to prevent the use of mulch films.

Plastic-free asparagus: it still exists!

While there are now biodegradable mulch films that can be plowed under or disposed of in the compost heap, they are rarely used due to their high price. In addition, they also fulfill their purpose, namely to suppress the growth of wild plants, which harms insects and, as a result, birds.

We, therefore, recommend that you ask around in your region which asparagus farmers are aware of their responsibility towards the environment and do without the plastic jungle. Simply enter “asparagus without foil” in your search engine.

If you don’t have the opportunity to buy vegetables from plastic-free asparagus producers, organic asparagus is definitely the better alternative. Here, comparatively often, biodegradable films are used. PVC foils are generally not used, which is why they are generally forbidden by Demeter asparagus farmers.

Freshness test and storage

It is best to buy asparagus directly from the grower, as the vegetables should never be prepared later than one to three days after harvesting. Only then can it fully develop its effect. When buying white and violet asparagus, make sure that the heads are tightly closed, green variants are already slightly open due to exposure to light.

In addition, the sticks should be plump and shiny and the cut ends should be juicy. Fresh asparagus squeaks when you rub the stalks together and gives off an aromatic smell when you squeeze the stalk at the point of intersection.

You can store the fresh sticks in the vegetable compartment of your refrigerator for a maximum of three days, ideally wrapped in a damp cloth. It is also possible to freeze the vegetables raw and peeled and then process them while they are still frozen if necessary.

Outside of the asparagus season, people like to use canned goods. While these are better than their reputation, since the vegetables are processed immediately after harvesting, they are still lower in terms of heat-sensitive and water-soluble nutrients such as e.g. B. to record vitamin C losses.

In addition, canned food often contains added sugar and additives such as stannous chloride, which can cause stomach irritation if consumed frequently. When it comes to canned goods, make sure that they are of good organic quality or – ideally – use fresh asparagus!

In the middle Havel lowland bird sanctuary around the Beetzsee in Brandenburg, 23 bird species have now died out locally. This also includes strictly protected species such as the red kite and the barred warbler. This can be attributed to the fact that asparagus fields covering an area of 500 hectares have been covered extensively with foil for ten years.

The Ministry for Rural Development, Environment and Agriculture (MLUL) already recognized in July 2016 that around a quarter of the asparagus cultivation areas in Brandenburg are located in European bird protection areas, which has already led to a deterioration in the conservation status of the area. Nonetheless, the government has so far done absolutely nothing to prevent the use of mulch films.

Plastic-free asparagus: it still exists!

While there are now biodegradable mulch films that can be plowed under or disposed of in the compost heap, they are rarely used due to their high price. In addition, they also fulfill their purpose, namely to suppress the growth of wild plants, which harms insects and, as a result, birds.

We, therefore, recommend that you ask around in your region which asparagus farmers are aware of their responsibility towards the environment and do without the plastic jungle. Simply enter “asparagus without foil” in your search engine.

If you don’t have the opportunity to buy vegetables from plastic-free asparagus producers, organic asparagus is definitely the better alternative. Here, comparatively often, biodegradable films are used. PVC foils are generally not used, which is why they are generally forbidden by Demeter asparagus farmers.

Freshness test and storage

It is best to buy asparagus directly from the grower, as the vegetables should never be prepared later than one to three days after harvesting. Only then can it fully develop its effect. When buying white and violet asparagus, make sure that the heads are tightly closed, green variants are already slightly open due to exposure to light.

In addition, the sticks should be plump and shiny and the cut ends should be juicy. Fresh asparagus squeaks when you rub the stalks together and gives off an aromatic smell when you squeeze the stalk at the point of intersection.

You can store the fresh sticks in the vegetable compartment of your refrigerator for a maximum of three days, ideally wrapped in a damp cloth. It is also possible to freeze the vegetables raw and peeled and then process them while they are still frozen if necessary.

Outside of the asparagus season, people like to use canned goods. While these are better than their reputation, since the vegetables are processed immediately after harvesting, they are still lower in terms of heat-sensitive and water-soluble nutrients such as e.g. B. to record vitamin C losses.

In addition, canned food often contains added sugar and additives such as stannous chloride, which can cause stomach irritation if consumed frequently. When it comes to canned goods, make sure that they are of good organic quality or – ideally – use fresh asparagus!

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Written by Bella Adams

I'm a professionally-trained, executive chef with over ten years in Restaurant Culinary and hospitality management. Experienced in specialized diets, including Vegetarian, Vegan, Raw foods, whole food, plant-based, allergy-friendly, farm-to-table, and more. Outside of the kitchen, I write about lifestyle factors that impact well-being.

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