Asparagus — the green vegetable known for its slender spears — is often one of the first signs of spring. It’s a natural addition to many spring dishes, from veggie-packed frittatas to salads piled high with the season’s finest ingredients.
The vegetable’s bright, somewhat earthy flavor is only one reason to love it. It’s also prized for its nutritional benefits and has been shown to have potential cancer-fighting and diuretic properties.
Learn all about it below, including its history and nutrition facts, along with asparagus recipes and tips on how to select and store your spears.
Asparagus is a vegetable that comes from the Asparagaceae family. There are more than 200 species within that plant family. Some species are grown as ornamental plants and others are used by florists in arrangements and corsages. You’re likely most familiar with the garden asparagus.
Asparagus was first grown in Greece more than 2,500 years ago, and experts say ancient Romans enjoyed it, too. It was commonly found growing in the wild. Early cultivated versions of asparagus had thinner stalks and were darker in color than the asparagus we find at the farmers market today. It also had a more bitter flavor.
Most vegetables are annuals, meaning they need to be planted every year. Asparagus is one of only a few perennial vegetables, meaning they come back year after year. That’s why you can sometimes still find it growing in the wild.
This vegetable grows in temperate or subtropical climates in soils that are not too acidic. Today, China, Thailand, Mexico, Peru, and Germany lead the way in growing most of the world’s asparagus.
Though this green vegetable is by far the most common, you may also have seen or tasted purple or white asparagus. Purple one usually tastes a bit sweeter than green, while white color has a milder, more delicate flavor. White one is grown in large quantities in France, which is why it’s commonly found in Europe. The vegetable is grown entirely underground so color-producing chlorophyll never develops and the stalks stay white.
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