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Jun 16

Ingredient of the Month: Almighty Asparagus

At this time of year, asparagus is a welcome visitor to the vegetable market, heralding the arrival of summer and lazy days.  This versatile veggie is all the more valuable for its short season; no sooner does it burst onto the vegetable stalls then it’s gone.  Make the most of the rest of the season with this handy guide to buying, preparing and cooking asparagus.

Green asparagus stems
Fresh asparagus are upright, green and firm to the touch

What are the key nutrients in asparagus?

Asparagus is an unusual vegetable in that it is a source of protein.  A 100g serving provides 2.2g or 4% of your daily protein requirement. Not a huge amount, but useful, especially for vegans.  The same sized portion provides 52% of your recommended Vitamin K, 15% of your Vitamin A, 13% of your folate and 12% of your iron (1).  This serving contains only 20 calories, and an estimated GL of 2.

Asparagus contains a range of plant chemicals, some of which inhibit the production of the COX2 enzyme, which produces inflammatory chemicals in the body.  This activity may be why asparagus is believed to be helpful for arthritis and rheumatism (2).

How should I choose and store Asparagus?

Look for firm, bright green stems (or purple ones if you are buying purple asparagus).  If the stalks are rubbery and bendy, or if there is a great deal of woody stem, choose again.  Look for firm, closed tips; if the tips have started to open or become soggy they will not survive well.

Store in the fridge, with the ends wrapped in a damp paper towel. Eat within a couple of days  of purchase if possible, as they tend to lose nutrients quickly.

When you are ready to eat your asparagus, wash gently in cold water, and apply pressure to the stem.  The woody bottoms will snap off, and you will be left with the top half, which will be suitable for cooking.  The ‘snap’ is really good for letting out stress!

Steam your asparagus lightly, or boil for a very short time until the green colour becomes brighter.  If you are using in a salad, run the asparagus under the cold tap the minute it is ready to preserve the bright colour.

The Romans were the first to preserve asparagus, by freezing it in the Alps.  Do the same so that you can enjoy it after the end of the season.  Steam  as above, immediately refresh in cold water and pat dry.  Lay in a single layer on a baking tray and place in the fridge until the asparagus freezes.  Then pack into freezer bags and store for a rainy day – literally.

Asparagus dipped in boiled egg

Get your veggies in the morning with asparagus soldiers

How can I include Asparagus in my diet?

  • Use as ‘soldiers’ to dip in your boiled egg instead of toast.
  • Having a barbecue?  Pop some asparagus on the Barbie – roasting creates a more intense flavour.
  • Mix with a packet of pre-cooked quinoa, add some baby spinach leaves and chopped spring onions, crumble over some feta cheese, and dress with olive oil and lemon for a near-instant lunch.
  • Add to an omelette or frittata.
  • Add to a stir fry for colour and vibrancy.  For example, asparagus could be an ingredient in my Good Mood Turkey Stir Fry.
  • For a celebration of all things green and good, try my Summertime Soup.

Are there any risks associated with Asparagus?

It is possible to be allergic to asparagus.  Symptoms can include asthma, swelling of the mouth and lips, and nasal congestion, possibly attributable to the proteins in the vegetable (5).  If you are allergic to vegetable such as onions, leeks and chives, you are more likely to be allergic to asparagus (3).  Asparagus contains small amounts of  oxalates and purines, so if you have a history of oxalate-related kidney stones, or if you suffer from gout, it may be wise to limit your intake (2).

Did you Know?

  1. There are over 300 varieties of asparagus, but only about 20 are edible! (2)
  2. The amino acid asparagine, which is present in asparagus, is believed to be responsible for making your urine smell after eating asparagus.  When broken down, the amino acid releases sulphur, which causes the smell, although not everyone can smell it (3).  In fact, only about 25% of people have the ‘smelly wee’ gene (4).  Asparagine is also believed to have diuretic properties.
  3. There is a Museum entirely dedicated to the asparagus in Bavaria, Germany.  You can visit its website here: http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/european-asparagus-museum.
  4. Asparagus love potion

    A new idea for a love potion?

    The herbalist Nicholas Culpepper reckoned that asparagus was a powerful aphrodisiac.  This may be because it contains Vitamin E, required for sex hormone production, and Vitamin C, which helps keep sperm healthy.  On the other hand, it may be more to do with its shape, or the way it can be eaten.

  5. Asparagus is a member of the lily family.
References:
  1. http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2311/2 [Accessed 12 June 2016].
  2. Murray, M., & Pizzorno, L., (2005).  The Encyclopaedia of Healing Foods, London, Piatkus.
  3. 3. http://www.livescience.com/45295-asparagus-health.html [Accessed 12 June 2016].
  4. 4. http://www.allasparagus.com/asparagus-facts/ [Accessed 12 June 2016].
  5. 5. Tabar, A.I., Alvarez-Puebla, M.J., Gomez, B., Sanchez-Monge, R., Garcia, B.E., Echechipia, S., Olaguibel, J.M., & Salcedo, G., (2004).  Diversity of asparagus allergy: clinical and immunological features.  Clinical and Experimental Allergy, 34(1), 131-136.

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