|A bundle of cultivated asparagus|
Asparagus officinalis is a spring vegetable, a flowering perennial plant species in the genus Asparagus. It was once classified in the lily family, like its Allium cousins, onions and garlic, but the Liliaceae have been split and the onion-like plants are now in the family Amaryllidaceae and asparagus in the Asparagaceae. Asparagus officinalis is native to most of Europe, northern Africa and western Asia, and is widely cultivated as a vegetable crop.
Asparagus is a herbaceous, perennial plant growing to 100–150 centimetres (39–59 in) tall, with stout stems with much-branched feathery foliage. The "leaves" are in fact needle-like cladodes (modified stems) in the axils of scale leaves; they are 6–32 mm (0.24–1.3 in) long and 1 mm (0.039 in) broad, and clustered 4–15 together. The root system is adventitious and the root type is fasciculated. The flowers are bell-shaped, greenish-white to yellowish, 4.5–6.5 mm (0.18–0.26 in) long, with six tepals partially fused together at the base; they are produced singly or in clusters of two or three in the junctions of the branchlets. It is usually dioecious, with male and female flowers on separate plants, but sometimes hermaphrodite flowers are found. The fruit is a small red berry 6–10 mm diameter, which is poisonous to humans.
Plants native to the western coasts of Europe (from northern Spain north to Ireland, Great Britain, and northwest Germany) are treated as Asparagus officinalis subsp. prostratus (Dumort.) Corb., distinguished by its low-growing, often prostrate stems growing to only 30–70 cm (12–28 in) high, and shorter cladodes 2–18 mm (0.079–0.71 in) long. It is treated as a distinct species, Asparagus prostratus Dumort, by some authors. A remarkable adaptation is the edible asparagus, while in the Macaronesian Islands several species, (A. umbellatus, A. scoparius, etc.), are preserved the original form, a leafy vine; in the Mediterranean, the asparagus genus has evolved into thorny species.
Asparagus has been used as a vegetable and medicine, owing to its delicate flavour, diuretic properties, and more. It is pictured as an offering on an Egyptian frieze dating to 3000 BC. Still in ancient times, it was known in Syria and in Spain. Greeks and Romans ate it fresh when in season and dried the vegetable for use in winter; Romans would even freeze it high in the Alps, for the Feast of Epicurus. Emperor Augustus reserved the "Asparagus Fleet" for hauling the vegetable, and coined the expression "faster than cooking asparagus" for quick action.[Note 1] A recipe for cooking asparagus is in the oldest surviving book of recipes, Apicius’s third-century AD De re coquinaria, Book III.
The ancient Greek physician Galen (prominent among the Romans) mentioned asparagus as a beneficial herb during the second century AD, but after the Roman empire ended, asparagus drew little medieval attention.[Note 2] until al-Nafzawi's The Perfumed Garden. That piece of writing celebrates its (scientifically unconfirmed) aphrodisiacal power, a supposed virtue that the Indian Ananga Ranga attributes to "special phosphorus elements" that also counteract fatigue. By 1469, asparagus was cultivated in French monasteries. Asparagus appears to have been hardly noticed in England until 1538,[Note 2] and in Germany until 1542.
The finest texture and the strongest and yet most delicate taste is in the tips. The points d'amour ("love tips") were served as a delicacy to Madame de Pompadour. Asparagus became available to the New World around 1850, in the United States.
|Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)|
|Energy||85 kJ (20 kcal)|
|- Sugars||1.88 g|
|- Dietary fibre||2.1 g|
|Vitamin A equiv.||38 μg (5%)|
|- beta-carotene||449 μg (4%)|
|- lutein and zeaxanthin||710 μg|
|Thiamine (vit. B1)||0.143 mg (12%)|
|Riboflavin (vit. B2)||0.141 mg (12%)|
|Niacin (vit. B3)||0.978 mg (7%)|
|Pantothenic acid (B5)||0.274 mg (5%)|
|Vitamin B6||0.091 mg (7%)|
|Folate (vit. B9)||52 μg (13%)|
|Choline||16 mg (3%)|
|Vitamin C||5.6 mg (7%)|
|Vitamin E||1.1 mg (7%)|
|Vitamin K||41.6 μg (40%)|
|Calcium||24 mg (2%)|
|Iron||2.14 mg (16%)|
|Magnesium||14 mg (4%)|
|Manganese||0.158 mg (8%)|
|Phosphorus||52 mg (7%)|
|Potassium||202 mg (4%)|
|Sodium||2 mg (0%)|
|Zinc||0.54 mg (6%)|
|Link to USDA Database entry
Percentages are relative to
US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient Database
Only young asparagus shoots are commonly eaten: once the buds start to open ("ferning out"), the shoots quickly turn woody.
Water makes up 93% of Asparagus's composition. Asparagus is low in calories and is very low in sodium. It is a good source of vitamin B6, calcium, magnesium and zinc, and a very good source of dietary fibre, protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, thiamin, riboflavin, rutin, niacin, folic acid, iron, phosphorus, potassium, copper, manganese and selenium, as well as chromium, a trace mineral that enhances the ability of insulin to transport glucose from the bloodstream into cells. The amino acid asparagine gets its name from asparagus, as the asparagus plant is relatively rich in this compound.
The shoots are prepared and served in a number of ways around the world, typically as an appetizer or vegetable side dish. In Asian-style cooking, asparagus is often stir-fried. Cantonese restaurants in the United States often serve asparagus stir-fried with chicken, shrimp, or beef. Asparagus may also be quickly grilled over charcoal or hardwood embers. It is also used as an ingredient in some stews and soups. In recent years, almost as a cycle dating back to early culinary habits, asparagus has regained its popularity eaten raw as a component of a salad.
Asparagus can also be pickled and stored for several years. Some brands may label shoots prepared this way as "marinated".
Stem thickness indicates the age of the plant, with the thicker stems coming from older plants. Older, thicker stalks can be woody and peeling the skin at the base will remove the tough layer. Peeled asparagus will poach much faster, however. The bottom portion of asparagus often contains sand and dirt, so thorough cleaning is generally advised before cooking.
Green asparagus is eaten worldwide, though the availability of imports throughout the year has made it less of a delicacy than it once was. In Europe, however, the "asparagus season is a highlight of the foodie calendar"; in the UK this traditionally begins on 23 April and ends on Midsummer Day. As in continental Europe, due to the short growing season and demand for local produce, asparagus commands a premium.
White asparagus in continental northwestern Europe 
Asparagus is very popular in the Netherlands, Spain, France, Poland, Belgium, Germany, and Switzerland, and almost exclusively white—else, it is specified by the local language term for "green asparagus". Compared to the latter, the locally cultivated so-called "white gold" or "edible ivory", also referred to as "the royal vegetable", is less bitter and much more tender. Freshness is highly regarded, and it must be peeled before cooking or raw consumption.
Only seasonally on the menu, asparagus dishes are advertised outside many restaurants, usually from late April to June. For the French style, asparagus is often boiled or steamed and served with hollandaise sauce, melted butter or olive oil, Parmesan cheese or mayonnaise. Tall, narrow asparagus cooking pots allow the shoots to be steamed gently, their tips staying out of the water.
During the German Spargelsaison or Spargelzeit, the asparagus season that traditionally finishes on 24 June, roadside stands and open-air markets sell about half of the country's white asparagus consumption.
Nutrition studies have shown asparagus is a low-calorie source of folate and potassium. Its stalks are high in antioxidants. "Asparagus provides essential nutrients: six spears contain some 135 micrograms (μg) of folate, almost half the adult RDI (recommended daily intake), 20 milligrams of potassium," notes an article in Reader's Digest.
Research suggests folate is key in taming homocysteine, a substance implicated in heart disease. Folate is also critical for pregnant women, since it protects against neural tube defects in babies. Studies have shown that people who have died from Alzheimer's Disease have extremely low to no levels of folate. Several studies indicate getting plenty of potassium may reduce the loss of calcium from the body.
Particularly green asparagus is a good source of vitamin C. Vitamin C helps the body produce and maintain collagen, the major structural protein component of the body's connective tissues.
"Asparagus has long been recognized for its medicinal properties," wrote D. Onstad, author of Whole Foods Companion: A Guide for Adventurous Cooks, Curious Shoppers and Lovers of Natural Foods. "Asparagus contains substances that act as a diuretic, neutralize ammonia that makes us tired, and protect small blood vessels from rupturing. Its fiber content makes it a laxative, too."
Water from cooking asparagus may help clean blemishes on the face if used for washing the face morning and night. From John Heinerman's Heinerman's New Encyclopedia of Fruits and Vegetables: "Cooked asparagus and its watery juices are very good for helping dissolve uric acid (causes gout) deposits in the extremities, as well as inducing urination where such a function may be lacking or only done on an infrequent basis. Asparagus is especially useful in cases of hypertension where the amount of sodium in the blood far exceeds the potassium present. Cooked asparagus also increases bowel evacuations."
South Korean scientists discovered asparagus can help with hangovers. Research to be published in the Journal of Food Science says extracts taken from leaves and shoots were found to boost levels of key enzymes that help break down alcohol.
Since asparagus often originates in maritime habitats, it thrives in soils that are too saline for normal weeds to grow. Thus, a little salt was traditionally used to suppress weeds in beds intended for asparagus; this has the disadvantage that the soil cannot be used for anything else. Some places are better for growing asparagus than others. The fertility of the soil is a large factor. "Crowns" are planted in winter, and the first shoots appear in spring; the first pickings or "thinnings" are known as sprue asparagus. Sprue has thin stems.
A new breed of "Early Season Asparagus" that can be harvested two months earlier than usual was announced by a UK grower in early 2011. This variety does not need to lie dormant and blooms at 7 °C (45 °F) rather than the usual 9 °C (48 °F).
The blanching of white asparagus is obtained by the labor intensive hilling cultivation method, to distinguish its gastronomical qualities from those of the green plant, which is the same botanical variety.
Purple asparagus differs from its green and white counterparts, having high sugar and low fiber levels. Purple asparagus was originally developed in Italy and commercialized under the variety name "Violetto d' Albenga". Since then, breeding work has continued in countries such as the United States and New Zealand.[verification needed]
Companion planting 
Asparagus is a useful companion plant for tomatoes. The tomato plant repels the asparagus beetle, as do several other common companion plants of tomatoes. Meanwhile, asparagus may repel some harmful root nematodes that affect tomato plants.
Commercial production 
China is the world's largest producer: in 2010 (6,960,357 tonnes), at a large distance followed by Peru (335,209 tonnes), and Germany (92,404 tonnes). U.S. production was concentrated in California, Michigan and Washington. The annual production for white asparagus in Germany is 57,000 tonnes (61% of consumer demand).
The green crop is significant enough in California's Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta region that the city of Stockton holds a festival every year to celebrate it, as does the city of Hart, Michigan, complete with a parade and asparagus queen. The Vale of Evesham in Worcestershire is heralded as the largest producer within Northern Europe, celebrating like Stockton, with a week-long festival every year involving auctions of the best crop and locals dressing up as spears of asparagus as part of the British Asparagus Festival.
Many German cities hold an annual Spargelfest (asparagus festival) celebrating the harvest of white asparagus. Schwetzingen claims to be the "Asparagus Capital of the World" and during its festival an Asparagus Queen is crowned. The Bavarian city of Nuremberg feasts a week long in April, with a competition to find the fastest asparagus peeler in the region. This usually involves generous amounts of the local wines and beer being consumed to aid the spectators' appreciative support.
Vernacular names and etymology 
Asparagus officinalis is widely known simply as "asparagus", and may be confused with unrelated plant species also known as "asparagus", such as Ornithogalum pyrenaicum known as "Prussian asparagus" for its edible shoots.
The English word "asparagus" derives from classical Latin, but the plant was once known in English as sperage, from the Medieval Latin sparagus.[Note 2] This term itself derives from the Greek aspharagos or asparagos, and the Greek term originates from the Persian asparag, meaning "sprout" or "shoot". Asparagus was also corrupted in some places to "sparrow grass"; indeed, the Oxford English Dictionary quotes John Walker as having written in 1791 that "Sparrow-grass is so general that asparagus has an air of stiffness and pedantry". In Gloucestershire and Worcestershire, it is also known simply as "grass", and young plants too small to cut are called "pru". Another known colloquial variation of the term, most common in parts of Texas, is "aspar grass" or "asper grass". In the Midwest United States and Appalachia, "spar grass" is a common colloquialism. Asparagus is commonly known in fruit retail circles as "Sparrows Guts", etymologically distinct from the old term "sparrow grass", thus showing convergent language evolution.
The Sanskrit name of Asparagus is shatavari and it has been historically used in India as a part of Ayurvedic medicines. In Kannada, it is known as ashadhi, majjigegadde or sipariberuballi.
In China it is known as lu sun (Cantonese: lo sun) 蘆筍 (simplified 芦笋), in Thailand as no mai farang (Thai: หน่อไม้ฝรั่ง), and in Vietnam as măng tây which literally mean "European bamboo shoots" and "Western bamboo shoots", respectively. The green asparagus is commonly used in Chinese-American cuisine and Thai cuisine.
Effects on urine 
The effect of eating asparagus on the urine has long been observed:
- "[Asparagus] cause a filthy and disagreeable smell in the urine, as every Body knows." (Treatise of All Sorts of Foods, Louis Lemery, 1702)
- "asparagus... affects the urine with a foetid smell (especially if cut when they are white) and therefore have been suspected by some physicians as not friendly to the kidneys; when they are older, and begin to ramify, they lose this quality; but then they are not so agreeable." ("An Essay Concerning the Nature of Aliments," John Arbuthnot, 1735)
- "A few Stems of Asparagus eaten, shall give our Urine a disagreable Odour..." ("Letter to the Royal Academy of Brussels," Benjamin Franklin, c. 1781)
There is debate about whether all—or only some—people produce the smell, and whether all (or only some) people identify the smell. It was originally thought this was because some of the population digested asparagus differently from others, so some people excreted odorous urine after eating asparagus, and others did not. In the 1980s three studies from France, China and Israel published results showing that producing odorous urine from asparagus was a common human characteristic. The Israeli study found that from their 307 subjects all of those who could smell 'asparagus urine' could detect it in the urine of anyone who had eaten asparagus, even if the person who produced it could not detect it himself. However, a 2010 study found variations in both production of odorous urine and the ability to detect the odour, but that these were not tightly related. It is believed most people produce the odorous compounds after eating asparagus, but only about 22% of the population have the autosomal genes required to smell them.
In 2010, the company 23andMe published a genome-wide association study on whether participants have "ever noticed a peculiar odor when you pee after eating asparagus?" This study pinpointed a single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) in a cluster of olfactory genes associated with the ability to detect the odor. While this SNP did not explain all of the difference in detection between people, it provides support for the theory that there are genetic differences in olfactory receptors that lead people to be unable to smell these odorous compounds.
Certain compounds in asparagus are metabolized to yield ammonia and various sulfur-containing degradation products, including various thiols and thioesters, which give urine a characteristic smell.
- dimethyl sulfide
- dimethyl disulfide
- dimethyl sulfoxide
- dimethyl sulfone
Subjectively, the first two are the most pungent, while the last two (sulfur-oxidized) give a sweet aroma. A mixture of these compounds form a "reconstituted asparagus urine" odor. This was first investigated in 1891 by Marceli Nencki, who attributed the smell to methanethiol. These compounds originate in the asparagus as asparagusic acid and its derivatives, as these are the only sulfur-containing compounds unique to asparagus. As these are more present in young asparagus, this accords with the observation that the smell is more pronounced after eating young asparagus. The biological mechanism for the production of these compounds is less clear.
Steamed asparagus prepared with roasted pine nuts
See also 
- Latin velocius quam asparagi conquantur (or celerius quam asparagi cocuntur), ascribed to Augustus by Suetonius (The Lives of the Twelve Caesars, Book 2 (Augustus), para. 87). See List of Latin phrases (V).
- Apparently around 1000 AD, the word "sparagus" appeared in an English text. See Brunning (June 2010), p. 6. – Brunning uses the term "in print", though no printing technique was used in England at the time. In the same sentence, she states that peasants often called it "sparrow grass", and further on mentions a 1667 diary in which Samuel Pepys bought a bundle of "sparrow grass" in Fenchurch Street, London.
- Grubben, G.J.H.; Denton, O.A., eds. (2004). Plant Resources of Tropical Africa 2. Vegetables. PROTA Foundation, Wageningen; Backhuys, Leiden; CTA, Wageningen.
- "Asparagus officinalis". Flora Europaea. Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. Retrieved 2010-05-19.
- "Asparagus officinalis". Euro+Med Plantbase Project. Botanic Garden and Botanical Museum Berlin-Dahlem. Retrieved 2010-05-19.
- USDA, ARS, National Genetic Resources Program. "Asparagus officinalis". Germplasm Resources Information Network. Beltsville, Maryland: National Germplasm Resources Laboratory. Retrieved 2010-05-19.
- Blamey, M. & Grey-Wilson, C. (1989). Flora of Britain and Northern Europe. ISBN 0-340-40170-2
- Stace, Clive; van der Meijden, Ruud (ed.); de Kort, Ingrid (ed.). "Asparagus prostratus (Asparagus, Wild)". Interactive Flora of NW Europe. ETI BioInformatics. Retrieved 2010-05-19.
- USDA, ARS, National Genetic Resources Program. "Asparagus prostratus". Germplasm Resources Information Network. Beltsville, Maryland: National Germplasm Resources Laboratory. Retrieved 2010-05-19.
- Brunning, Pam (June 2010). "Asparagus – Liliaceae–Asparagacease" (Pdf). Food & Wine (The International Wine & Food Society Europe & Africa Committee) (103). Retrieved 2011-08-26.
- "Over asperge – Oudheid" (in Dutch). Stichting Afzetbevordering Asperges, Netherlands. Retrieved 2011-08-26.
- Vaughan, John Griffith; Geissler, Catherine Alison; Nicholson, Barbara (1997). The New Oxford Book of Food Plants. Oxford University Press.
- "Wit goud en koningin der groente: vorstelijke asperges" (in Dutch). Infoyo (web publisher), Netherlands. 20 May 2009. Retrieved 2011-08-26.
- "Growing Asparagus in the Home Garden". Section on harvesting, page 2. Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service. Retrieved 2011-06-06
- Snyder, Harry. (1908). "Human Foods and their Nutritive value". The MacMillan Company.
- NutritionData.com entry on asparagus (referenced from USDA data)
- USDA Agricultural Research Service Data section 11 (pg 61)
- Asparagus appetizer recipe
- Salad Recipe
- "Ingredients - Asparagus". DrGourmet.com. Retrieved 2011-07-20.
- Oxford Times: "Time to glory in asparagus again".
- British Asparagus
- "Choisissez une recette de Salsifis" (in French). Recettes de Cuisine TV. Retrieved 2011-08-26. (Salsifis is French for asparagus.)
- Evans, Stephen (2012-04-21). "Asparagus, royalty and the joys of seasonal eating". BBC News. Retrieved 22 April 2012.
- "Asparagus: an Unlikely Hangover Cure". Yahoo News. Retrieved 17 July 2012.
- "BBC – Food – Glossary – 'S'". BBC Online. Retrieved 2007-06-08.
- "New breed of early asparagus hits the shelves". The Daily Telegraph. March 19, 2011. Retrieved March 20, 2011.
- "Plants for a Future".
- According to Global Trade Atlas and U.S. Census Bureau statistics
- USDA (January 2006). Vegetables 2005 Summary. National Agricultural Statistics Service.
- "Food and Agriculture Organisation Statistics (FAOSTAT)". Archived from the original on 2007-11-07. Retrieved 2007-11-11.
- Spence, Molly. "Asparagus: The King of Vegetables" (DOC). German Agricultural Marketing Board. Archived from the original on 2007-10-13. Retrieved 2007-02-26.
- "British Aparagus Festival".
- "Official internet portal of the City of Nuremberg".
- McGee, Harold (2004). "6". McGee on Food and Cooking. Hodder and Stoughton. p. 315. ISBN 0-340-83149-9.
- Arbuthnot J (1735). An Essay Concerning the Nature of Aliments 3rd ed. London: J. Tonson. pp. 64261–262.
- Franklin, Benjamin (c. 1781). "Letter to the Royal Academy of Brussels"
- From the French "[...] changer mon pot de chambre en un vase de parfum," Du côté de chez Swann, Gallimard, 1988.
- C. RICHER1, N. DECKER2, J. BELIN3, J. L. IMBS2, J. L. MONTASTRUC3 & J. F. GIUDICELLI (May 1989). "Odorous urine in man after asparagus". Br J. Clin. Pharmac 27 (5): 640–1. PMC 1379934. PMID 2757887.
- S. C. MITCHELL (May 1989). "Asparagus and malodorous urine". Br J. Clin. Pharmac 27 (5): 641–2. PMC 1379935. PMID 2757888.
- Pelchat, M. L.; Bykowski, C., Duke, F. F., Reed, D. R. (2010). "Excretion and Perception of a Characteristic Odor in Urine after Asparagus Ingestion: a Psychophysical and Genetic Study". Chemical Senses 36 (1): 9–17. doi:10.1093/chemse/bjq081. PMC 3002398. PMID 20876394.
- "The scientific chef: asparagus pee". The Guardian. September 23, 2005. Archived from the original on 4 May 2007. Retrieved 2007-04-21.
- Hannah Holmes. "Why Asparagus Makes Your Pee Stink". Discover.com.
- Lison M, Blondheim SH, Melmed RN. (1980). "A polymorphism of the ability to smell urinary metabolites of asparagus". Br Med J 281 (6256): 1676–8. doi:10.1136/bmj.281.6256.1676. PMC 1715705. PMID 7448566.
- Eriksson N, Macpherson JM, Tung JY, Hon LS, Naughton B, Saxonov S, Avey L, Wojcicki A, Pe'er I, Mountain J (2010). "Web-Based, Participant-Driven Studies Yield Novel Genetic Associations for Common Traits". In Gibson, Greg. PLoS Genet. 6 (6): e1000993. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1000993. PMC 2891811. PMID 20585627.
- White RH. (1975). "Occurrence of S-methyl thioesters in urines of humans after they have eaten asparagus". Science 189 (4205): 810–11. doi:10.1126/science.1162354. PMID 1162354.
- "Excretion and Perception of a Characteristic Odor in Urine after Asparagus Ingestion: a Psychophysical and Genetic Study". Chemical Senses , Oxford Journals, Oxford University Press. July 26, 2010.
- Waring RH, Mitchell SC and Fenwick GR (1987). "The chemical nature of the urinary odour produced by man after asparagus ingestion". Xenobiotica 17 (11): 1363–1371. doi:10.3109/00498258709047166. PMID 3433805.
- Mitchell S.C. (2001). "Food idiosyncrasies: beetroot and asparagus". Drug Metabolism and Disposition 29 (4): 539–543. PMID 11259347.
- Nencki, Marceli (1891). "Ueber das vorkommen von methylmercaptan im menschlichen harn nach spargelgenuss". Arch Exp Path Pharmak 28 (3–4): 206–209. doi:10.1007/BF01824333.
- Somer, E. (August 14, 2000). "Eau D'Asparagus". WebMD. Archived from the original on 21 August 2006. Retrieved 2006-08-31.
- Research completed and verified by Dr. R. McLellan from the University of Waterloo.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Asparagus officinalis|
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|Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Asparagus.|
- PROTAbase on Asparagus officinalis
- Asparagus officinalis – Plants for a Future database entry
- PDF (55.0 KB) – 2005 USDA report
- Asparagus Production Management and Marketing – commercial growing (OSU bulletin)