Asparagus: A much-anticipated spring ritual

by  Dr Rupy Aujla18 Apr 2023

Ah, the first asparagus of the year – one of my personal favourites! Adding it to your plate takes you from winter to spring in a few bites. Asparagus season marks a brief yet much-anticipated spring ritual, a time to awaken from our winter slumber. If you’re not a fan (yet), fear not and scroll down for some tips and recipes. But first, a few interesting tidbits about its history, health benefits and more!

In a Nutshell

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History Snippets

Ancient Egyptians used asparagus as a food and medicinal source due to its flavour and diuretic properties. The asparagus plant appears as an offering in an Egyptian frieze dating to 3000 BC. (Iqbal et al. 2017)

Its cultivation dates back to the Romans over 2,000 years ago. It’s said that the emperor Augustus had dedicated ships called Asparagus Fleets for transporting asparagus around the empire!

The word Asparagus originates from the Persian “asparag”, meaning sprout or shoot.

Research Digest

Stress and sleep: A small human trial found that asparagus extract reduced participants’ levels of salivary stress hormones and improved sleep quality. (Ito et al. 2014)

In perspective: Most studies used laboratory models or small sample sizes, which limits conclusions from the current research. More human trials are needed.

How much? It’s hard to determine the amount of whole asparagus from small trials.

Our advice: Overall, 10 portions or 800g of fruit and veg per day was associated with better health. Make asparagus one of your veggies this season! (Aune et al. 2017)

Overall health: Asparagus contributes to your fibre intake. Multiple human studies show a link between a higher intake of dietary fibre and better health, including a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, improved blood pressure, lipid profiles and glycemic control. (Fu et al. 2022Veronese et al. 2018)

So…what’s in asparagus? Let’s get nerdy…

Quick Food Science

  • Dietary fibre and associated compounds. They are used by selected gut microbes to produce active metabolites like short-chain fatty acids that play key roles in our health.
  • Vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A, B, C, and E, folic acid, potassium, magnesium and calcium.
  • Bioactive compounds, especially rutin and other flavonoids, glutathione, asparagine and saponins.

Gluta-what now? Together, these compounds show beneficial effects in lab models like improving the composition of the gut microbiota, modulating the immune system and improving antioxidant capacity. (Guo et al. 2020)

Our Take: Make asparagus one of your vegetables this spring season. Enjoy experimenting with it and cooking it into different meal

Earth to Plate

Only around for a few weeks: In the UK, asparagus season lasts for about 6 to 8 weeks, from the end of April to Summer Solstice on June 21st. Spears emerge when soil temperature rises and grow quickly, using a lot of energy from the roots. When the spears become thinner, it’s time to stop harvesting to preserve reserves for the following year. Enjoy them now before they take flight!

Ain’t no sunshine: White asparagus is white because it’s grown underground without exposure to sunlight. Farmers “blanch” their plants by piling soil over the crown in late winter. The spears are harvested by careful daily inspection before they break through the soil and turn green!

Why buy local: Enjoy it while in season and look for local origin. Three-quarters of imported asparagus is shipped by air, causing high transport emissions. Locally grown asparagus lowers the global-warming potential by almost 5x compared to imported asparagus. (Frankowska et al. 2019)

Skip the organic section: Asparagus is unlikely to contain pesticides with no detectable residues on 90% of samples tested by the Environmental Working Group.

Tasty Tips

Asparagus Around the World

  • Germany: White asparagus – or spargel – is typically eaten with melted butter or Hollandaise sauce, boiled potatoes and ham.
  • Belgium & France:  Asperges à la Flamande with butter, eggs and parsley. It’s also used in quiches or lightly grilled and served with a vinaigrette or hollandaise sauce.
  • Spain: Crema de Espárragos, a creamy asparagus soup served with croutons and cream or grated cheese.

If you’re on the fence about asparagus, fear not! Its delicate bitter flavour can be an acquired taste and, who knows, it may just become your new favourite.

  • Try white asparagus – it usually has a milder and more delicate taste
  • Prep it – Cut out the woody bottom portion of each stalk and don’t peel it
  • Pair it with strong flavours – Try roasting it with parmesan cheese or grilling it with lemon and garlic.
  • Don’t overcook it – Choose thicker stalks and only cook for a few minutes or enjoy it raw in a salad.

More tips

My favourite non-recipe ways to enjoy asparagus

  • On its own, gently steamed and served with garlic, olive oil and lemon juice
  • Paired with eggs in an omelette, quiche or frittata
  • In a soup with leeks, onions, russet potatoes, broth and lemon juice
  • Raw in a salad with walnuts, parmesan and a lemon dressing
  • On toast with sautéed broad beans, basil and parmesan cheese
  • As a dip in a guacamole

Get Cooking!

Dive Deeper

Human studies: Ito et al. 2014 - Aune et al. 2017 - Fu et al. 2022 - Veronese et al. 2018

History, compounds & biological activities: Redondo-Cuenca et al. 2023. - Iqbal et al. 2017

Environment: Frankowska et al. 2019 - The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture

by Dr Rupy Aujla


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