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Asparagus From A to Z: 26 Things to Know

Asparagus From A to Z: 26 Things to Know

From Albenga to Zero calories, 26 interesting facts and figures about asparagus, one of the most iconic Spring vegetables.

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Albenga. The purple asparagus from Albenga in Liguria, is one of the Italian varieties to have obtained IGP status (Indication of Geographical Protection). Particularly large and purple in colour (owing to its 40 genes against the 20 of other asparagus varieties), it rose to fame in the nineties when it was served to Queen Elizabeth for lunch. It is a Slow Food Presidium product.

Big. Contrary to other vegetable varieties, the bigger the better in the case of asparagus, because the more pulp it has in relation to its outer skin, the more tender it is likely to be.

Cladodes. The edible part of the asparagus plant is the spear, the fleshy shoots which are eaten when still young. The fruit, on the other hand, is the small red berry which is actually poisonous for human beings.

Diuretic. Asparagus has an immediate diuretic effect and helps detoxify the liver, intestine, lungs and kidneys. The characteristic and pungent smell of urine following the consumption of asparagus is caused by asparagine: this odour proves that the vegetable is performing its function of alkalizing and purifying the kidneys.

Ecosystem. The asparagus plant is very thirsty: the huge amounts of water required to grow it have put a great strain on the water resources of some semi-arid regions of Mexico, Peru and Chile where it is grown for exportation.

Fleet. The Ancient Romans were so fond of asparagus that they apparently built special boats which were sent off to collect it, the so-called “Asparagus fleet”. Moreover, they used to freeze asparagus in the ice of the Alps.

Grill. Raw asparagus can be grilled and eaten crunchy, even slightly charred: asparagus is the latest fad in terms of barbecued vegetables and especially nice when dressed with balsamic vinegar from Modena and parmesan shavings.

Hollandaise. The perfect match for an asparagus that is nude but not crude. Unlike mayonnaise, thick hollandaise sauce is prepared warm, using eggs and butter, and has the look of granny’s custard.

Ivory. Asparagus is also known as "edible ivory", the white variety that is, which is the result of a “blanching technique” used when the shoots are still growing. The spears are naturally white until they emerge from the ground to become pinkish-purple, and gradually turn green when photosynthesis takes place. White asparagus is earthed up as it grows, in order to maintain its ivory colour, and to produce a variety that is less bitter and more tender.

Juice. Literally packed with healthy nutrients, asparagus juice is often mixed with sweeter juices such as apple or carrot. However, it is worth trying with other ingredients that are equally alkaline, such as lemon, celery, cucumber, coriander, lime and green apple.

Kuşkonmaz. This is the Turkish word for asparagus, which literally means "bird can't land”, owing to the shape of the plant.

Love tips. Another name for asparagus tips which are the slenderest, strongest and most delicate part of the spear. Dubbed “points d'amour” in French, they used to be served in generous portions as a delicacy to Madame de Pompadour, King Louis XV’s favourite and the most powerful woman of France in the XVIII century.

Maritime. Asparagus is often grown in maritime climates, in soil that would be too saline for most other vegetables. For this reason, it was customary to add salt to the land on which asparagus was cultivated: this stopped weeds - as well as other edible plants – from growing there.

Ninety-one. This is the minimum percentage of water contained in asparagus: according to the way it is grown – in a greenhouse or in an open field – the percentage varies between 91 and 93%.

Onion. Onion and garlic are cousins of the asparagus: they belong to the same family, that of the Liliaceae, albeit from different branches, Amaryllidaceae and Asparagaceae.

Peru. Although China is by far the greatest producer of asparagus (it processes enormous quantities of tinned white asparagus), Peru is the main exporter of fresh green asparagus.

Quintinye. Jean Baptiste de la Quintynie (1616-1688) was the famous gardener of the Sun King. He was so skilled that he even managed to produce asparagus in December for the French monarch who adored it. It was in this period that asparagus growing reached its peak of popularity. The king, who made recourse to the aphrodisiacal powers of asparagus (see letter X), erected an obelisk at Versailles in honour of the gardener who managed to produce it all year round.

Raw. Finely cut, raw asparagus is being rediscovered as an ideal ingredient for adding crunchiness to salads.

Schwetzingen. Many German cities hold an asparagus festival, or Spargelfest, but Schwetzingen has proclaimed itself "Asparagus Capital of the World" and even elects an Asparagus Queen.

Temperature. The weather makes all the difference: owing to increasingly warm temperatures in recent years, some countries of northern Europe have been able to extend the asparagus season for several weeks.

UK. The United Kingdom is becoming fonder and fonder of asparagus: since 2011 the amount of land given over to this crop has increased by as much as 24% and in the past ten years, the demand for asparagus has grown by an amazing 540%.

Vase. Asparagus is also a fine ornamental plant. Its feathery foliage, similar to that of ferns, is cut and used to adorn bunches of flowers.

Wine. Not such a simple pairing because of the components of asparagus, in particular asparagine, thiols and asparagusic acid which add sharp woody notes to its taste. White wines – better still if aromatic with pronounced grassy accents -, such as brut and prosecco are recommended; avoid red wines with a high tannic content.

Xxx. From Mesopotamia to Arabia, from India to the southern shores of the Mediterranean, the aphrodisiac properties of asparagus have been declaimed down through the centuries. In the Middle Ages, the Medical School of Salerno pronounced: “augmentat sparagus sperma”. Asparagus owes this reputation to its phallic shape, which is elongated and turgid, and the rapid growth of its spears which reach a height of up to 25 cm in just 1-2 days.

You&me. The ideal pairing? Tomato and asparagus. At least, while still in the field: each plant combats the other’s parasites, making them ideal companions.

Zero calories. Asparagus is a low-calorie vegetable: 20/25 Kcal per 100 g, 50% of which is provided by proteins. It is also a food that is very rich in nutrients – from phosphorus to vitamins (A, B6, C etc), from amino acids to fibre.

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