Vegetable Of The Month: Asparagus

The asparagus season is here! I hope you are just as excited about it as I am! 🙂 I love asparagus, and I am abundantly enjoying it right now. It is a fascinating vegetable, not only because of its looks, but because of the way it is grown and harvested, and the fact that it’s packed with nutrients. It really is a veggie you should be consuming more of while it is in season.

Asparagus is actually part of the lily family! Liliaceae is one of the largest plant families  and includes onions, leeks, garlic, gladioli, chives, and turnips. In Germany asparagus is known as the “königliche Gemüse” or royal vegetable, and the “Spargelzeit” or asparagus season is celebrated, as many restaurants focus their menu on this vegetable. Did you know that there is even an Asparagus Museum in Bavaria, Germany? Yes, that’s right, and you can find out more about it here if you’re interested.

Health benefits:

Asparagus has so many health benefits, because of the wide range and amounts of nutrients it supplies. It contains quercentin, one of the most researched flavonoids in nutrition that is know in helping reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Asparagus is also abundant in phytonutrients, called steroidal saponins, that have been shown to play a role in numerous actions in the immune function. It has anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties. Rich in vitamins, such as vitamin K (which plays an important role for building healthy bones), A, C, and vitamin E – an an important antioxidant that helps strengthen the immune system and protects cells from the harmful effects of free radicals, this green vegetable is a mighty ally in the health department.

It is also a great source of folate. Folate is an important nutrient especially for pregnant women or women who plan on getting pregnant in the near future. Folate combined with Vitamin B12 also acts as a mood booster and helps our brain function better. Asparagus is also a source of minerals, such as iron, calcium, and copper.

Its high fiber content makes asparagus a  great prebiotic, it promotes a healthy balance of the good bacteria in your gut. This can also help with excess bloating and gas. As it is low in calories and high in fiber it makes a perfect food choice if you are trying to lose some extra weight.

Eat some asparagus after a night out, as it helps detoxify the liver and can ease hangover symptoms. It contains the amino acid asparagine which acts as a natural diuretic, and it is great for the urinary tract, as it can help flush excess fluid and salt from the body. Asparagus contains asparagusic acid, which when metabolised is converted to compounds containing sulfur, which gives the urine a pungent odor. There are, however, no harmful effects, either from the sulfuric compounds or the odor.

Varieties

There are different varieties of asparagus. Green asparagus is the variety where the shoots of the plant are grown upward from the soil towards the sunlight. They are using their chlorophyll pigments to gather energy from the sun. White asparagus on the other hand is grown underground, and the growers cover the spears in mounded dirt. As they are not exposed to light, they do not produce chlorophyll, which would turn them green. So green asparagus is a term to describe the way the plant has been grown – with plenty of sunlight available to the growing shoots.  You will also find purple asparagus, and a flavonoid containing anthocyanin pigments is responsible for their colour.
There is another variety of asparagus that you won’t find in the supermarket, called wild asparagus. Known in Ayurveda as Shatavari, it has a long history of use in plant medicines.

How to select and store

When selecting asparagus look for stalks that are rounded, not too fat and not twisted. Look for firm, thin stems with closed tips, with a deep colour. The cuts at the end should not be too woody, although a little woodiness prevents them from drying out.  Asparagus has a very high respiration rate, which means that they are very perishable and more likely to lose water, wrinkle and harden than other vegetables. For this reason use asparagus within day or two after purchase for best flavour and texture. Store in the fridge with the ends wrapped in damped paper towel.

Preparation Tips 

To retain most of its nutrients it is best to choose a cooking method that limits the heat exposure and duration, as well as cooking liquid. Best sauté with some water at the bottom of a pan for 5 minutes or blanch for about 60 seconds in boiling water. Do not cook asparagus for longer than 5 minutes. Cooking asparagus for too long in a lot of water will cause the nutrients to leak into the water, so do keep an eye on the preparation time of this healthy veggie. As a general rule, the thinner the tips of the asparagus are, the less time they should be cooked for. If you want to serve your asparagus chopped, it is best if you cook it whole and chop it afterwards.

Are you an asparagus fan as well? How do you like to consume it? 

Sources:
http://www.well-beingsecrets.com/health-benefits-of-asparagus/
http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=12

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