The surprising health benefits of in-season asparagus
- Health & Wellbeing
Spring is here and so is Australian asparagus! This delicious in season option is rich in antioxidants and a low GI which helps to reduce spikes in blood sugar. It has also been shown to help reduce symptoms of depression and tastes great too, so what’s not to love?
The ABC of healthy eating
Asparagus has an abundance of nutrition packed into every spear. Glenn Cardwell, an accredited practising dietitian with over 35 years experience working with the food industry and fresh produce, has provided these facts.
A - Asparagus is low in kilojoules, and contains no fat or cholesterol, whilst providing fibre. That makes it a must for any diet, including a weight loss diet.
B - Why take a supplement when asparagus can provide us with essential nutrients like the essential B group vitamins folate, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, B6 and biotin, along with vitamin C?
C - It’s not only fruit that gives us vitamin C. One serve of asparagus provides about 25% of our daily needs of vitamin C. Did you know that vitamin C helps us to absorb adequate iron from our diet? Asparagus has a brilliant range of bioactive compounds, such as antioxidants like rutin and beta-carotene, which help keep us healthy, well into old age.
Did you know? The name asparagus comes from the Greek language meaning ‘sprout’ or ‘shoot”’ and it is a member of the lily family as are onions, garlic, leeks, turnips and gladioli
Blanched, baked or fresh, asparagus is a great side-kick to many meals.
Try these 18 delicious ways to serve asparagus here
How to select, store and prepare asparagus
Asparagus is a perennial plant that is native to the eastern Mediterranean and Asia Minor areas. Each spear is harvested by hand when it’s at just the right length.
Season availability: Australian asparagus is available from September to March, however the main production is during September, October and November.
How to select asparagus: Look for firm, bright, smooth, spears of uniform size with closed, compact tips. When you snap fresh asparagus, it should be crisp, moist and juicy.
Asparagus comes in three colour varieties; green, white and purple!
Preparing asparagus: Simply snap off the woody ends with your forefinger and thumb. Alternatively, run a knife along the stalk until it meets less resistance, and then cut the end off at this point.
Storing asparagus: Did you know that freshly harvested asparagus is very similar to cut flowers? It needs to be kept in cool, humid conditions.
Easy tips to keep asparagus fresh:
1. Simply wrap it in a damp tea towel, pop it in a plastic bag and store it in the crisper compartment of your refrigerator.
2. Stand the fresh spears upright in a container with 1cm cold water, cover and store it in the refrigerator.
Did you know? Purple asparagus is a fun alternative for a special occasion dinner. Purple asparagus produces sweeter, thicker spears than green or white asparagus. Fresh purple asparagus is deeply fruit flavoured and tender crisp. It is usually available in Australia October and mid December but currently only in limited supplies
The history of asparagus
Widely cultivated for its tender, succulent, edible shoots, asparagus cultivation began more than 2,000 years ago in the eastern Mediterranean region. Greeks and Romans prized asparagus for its unique flavour, texture and alleged medicinal qualities. They ate it fresh when in season and dried the vegetable for use in winter.
The ancient Greeks loved wild asparagus but it was the Romans who first cultivated it
In the 16th Century, asparagus gained popularity in France and England. From there, the early colonists brought it to America. Asparagus is often called the “Food of Kings.” King Louis XIV of France was so fond of this delicacy that he ordered special greenhouses built so he could enjoy asparagus all year-round.
The Emperor Augustus coined the phrase ‘velocius quam asparagi conquantur’, meaning to do something faster than you can cook asparagus. Julius Caesar first ate it in Lombardy and wanted it served with melted butter.
The asparagus growing beds in Northern Italy were famous during the Renaissance period. These graceful spears of the asparagus plant have always been a sign of elegance and in the past asparagus was deemed a delicacy only the wealthy could afford. Roman emperors were so fond of asparagus, that they kept a special asparagus fleet for the purpose of fetching it.
How do you like to serve your asparagus? Let us know in the comments below.