Asparagus is a spiky, fibrous green veggie in season late winter to early spring, with the peak around April. The asparagus shoots we consume are actually the young stalks of a perennial blooming flower in the lily family. Packed with nutrients but also water-dense, this unique veggie is a delicious, healthy addition to any meal.
AttributesFresh asparagus should be firm and bright green, with a slight purple tinge on the florets at the tip. Asparagus is a rich source of a handful of key vitamins and nutrients such as vitamin K, folate and antioxidants. Antioxidants and flavonoids are even higher in the more elusive purple varieties of asparagus if you happen to find them on the shelves of your grocery store.
SuperpowersWith its high content of antioxidants, asparagus is a great addition to a healthy diet to help fight inflammation and lower blood pressure. Additionally, the fiber in these stalks promotes gut health and feeds the good microbes that inhabit your intestines. If you're looking to cut calories but keep up a well-balanced diet, you might want to reach for that extra serving of asparagus. Asparagus only packs 20 calories in a half-cup, but is nutritious and filling because of its high water, fiber and nutrient content.
WeaknessesThe trickiest part of bringing a bundle of asparagus home is keeping it fresh before you eat it. Because of the high water content, asparagus will quickly wilt if not stored properly, degrading its nutrients along with it. However, there's an easy fix. Once you get your asparagus home, it's best to store it so the cut ends are in a shallow amount of water. Find a mason jar or other container that the bundle will fit in and fill it with about an inch of water, then place the stalks in the water standing vertically. This will keep the asparagus crisp and fresh until you get the chance to eat it.
How to use itAsparagus is packed with a unique flavor that makes it an excellent stand-alone side when sautéed until soft with a drizzle of oil and some garlic, then tossed with crushed pepper, juice of a lemon and salt. You can also grill it with your favorite seasonings or steam it. These stalks make a delicious addition to pastas and stir-fries too.
When cooking asparagus, be sure to first snap off the woody ends for the best experience. This can be done by gently bending the bottom of the stalk and letting it snap off at the natural breaking point. Although eating uncooked asparagus might seem daunting because of the high fiber content, fear not! Uncooked asparagus is actually higher in vitamin C, since this commonly sought-after vitamin is quickly degraded with the heat of cooking. Try to cut the stalks as slim as possible to make eating easier — slicing asparagus ribbons with a vegetable peeler will do the trick!
Stacey Aggarwal received a Ph.D. in pharmacology from the University of Washington. Now she writes about biology, health and nutrition while running a lavender farm in North Idaho.