Can you guess which vegetable was once proclaimed the "king of vegetables," can help reduce the risk of birth defects for pregnant women, helps women manage PMS symptoms, prevents progression of cataracts and even fights cancer? Sound too good to be true?
Believe it or not...it's asparagus!
With all of these powers plus more, and since asparagus season is rapidly approaching, it's the perfect Superfood for April!
Maybe you are like us and are already crazy about asparagus! Or, maybe you have tried it a time or two and just haven't found an inspiring preparation. Or, maybe you think you don't like it at all. We hope to give you some reasons and ideas to enjoy this incredible vegetable...maybe even more than you already do!
Where does asparagus come from?
Asparagus was actually cultivated 2,500 years ago in Greece. Greeks used it as an herbal medicine and many medicinal benefits still exist. Asparagus is within the same vegetable family as onions, leeks, and garlic. It is grown by planting a crown a foot deep in the soil, and then each crown will produce spears of asparagus for 6-7 weeks during the spring and early summer. The season for asparagus is April through June. Early in the season, asparagus is picked every 4-5 days. Then, as the temperatures get warmer, the spears grow faster…as much as 10 inches in 24 hours! At its peak, it often has to be harvested every day. Asparagus plants can produce every year for 15 years or more!
The U.S. imports the majority of its asparagus, much of it from Peru and Mexico. These imports during the peak season drive costs down, making it difficult for U.S. producers to compete. The majority of the U.S. asparagus is grown in just a few states...California, Washington, and Michigan. Of course, many local farmers grow asparagus and sell it at farmers’ markets or through local co-ops. No surprise…we highly recommend buying in-season asparagus from your local farmers!
Asparagus is absolutely loaded with nutrients…if you look at nutrients per calorie, asparagus is at or near the top of the list! It includes fiber, folate (much needed during pregnancy), tons of vitamins such as Vitamins B, C & E, a whopping punch of Vitamin K, and is an excellent source of potassium, which is important for a healthy blood pressure and strong heart. Asparagus also is an excellent anti-inflammatory food and helps fight cancer with a very powerful antioxidant called glutathione, which destroys carcinogens in our bodies and helps protect our skin. It just keeps getting better -- asparagus is low in calories, only 20 per serving, and is very low in sodium!
How do you choose it?
Asparagus is available in different varieties...green, white and purple, with green being the most common. White is the same variety as green, but is grown without exposure to the sun. Purple is a different variety, which can be slightly sweeter and it turns green when cooked.
We have found that the farmer's market is the perfect place to find fresh, in-season green and purple asparagus, often harvested from the field within the last 12 hours! When selecting asparagus, you know it is fresh if it snaps when it is bent -- you don't want it wilted or limp. If you are buying the green variety, it should be bright green with purplish tips.
How do you store it?
The best way to store asparagus and keep it fresh for at least a week:
- Keep the asparagus in the bunch.
- Trim stem ends if rough and dry.
- Place the bunch of asparagus upright in a mason jar, cup, or bowl (you want to keep the bunch standing upright) and fill with about one inch of water. You don't need to completely cover the asparagus with water, just enough to keep the stem ends moist.
- Cover the top of the asparagus loosely with a plastic bag. (This will keep the asparagus tasting fresh and keep it from taking on the taste of other foods in your refrigerator).
- Store in the refrigerator until ready to use!
Let's get cooking...how do you prepare it?
There are many ways to prepare asparagus...roasted in the oven, blanched, steamed, sautéed, grilled or yes, you can even eat it raw! One of our favorite ways to cook asparagus is roasting. Many people think asparagus tastes better when cooked, even for just a few minutes, but like with all vegetables, you should experiment and find the preparations you like best!
A coaching tip on asparagus wouldn't be complete without addressing that awkward issue…maybe you have heard about it...
Not that we make a habit of smelling or talking about our urine, but just in case you have ever wondered when you eat asparagus..."what is that funny smell?" You are not imagining things! Asparagus contains an acid that breaks down into sulfur-containing compounds that can vaporize when exposed to the air. This is why you may notice a distinct smell, but don't worry, it is not harmful! And, don't be concerned if you don't smell anything – not everyone does! Scientists continue to debate whether people who can’t smell it don’t produce it or simply don’t smell it. And, now you know!
Now, let's get back to the more appetizing side of asparagus!
For April, take the Superfood Challenge...serve asparagus at least one day a week for the entire month in ALL kinds of different ways. Get your whole family involved and vote...is it a "keeper" or "sleeper?" From adding to salads, stir-fries, pizza and other meals, we are confident you will find some great, new asparagus recipes your whole family will enjoy! If nothing else, try asparagus roasted or grilled…we think your taste buds will thank you!
For more on our monthly Superfood Challenge series...