Asparagus “transforms my chamber pot into a flask of perfume,” said Proust. All noses are different, and so are the white and green versions of the spring vegetable belonging to the lily family. The color difference is attributed to photosynthesis, which white asparagus skips being underground. Grown in Europe and South America, the white version is more labor intensive to produce, since the shoots grow at different rates and must be harvested by hand. Combined with transport costs, it is up to three times more expensive. The resulting pale white asparagus spears have a more delicate flavor than their green cousin. Its thicker and bitter skin means that the bottoms two-thirds of the stalk need to be peeled during preparation.
The culinary history of asparagus can be traced back to Apicius’ third century De re coquinaria, which features an ancient recipe for cooking the delicacy. Native to most of Europe, northern Africa, and western Asia, asparagus has been celebrated since ancient times for its medicinal properties. In Ayurvedic tradition, an Indian version of asparagus called shatavari, which translates into ‘a woman who possesses 100 husbands’, is prized for its ability to rejuvenate the female reproductive organs. In general, Asparagus has one of the highest antioxidant contents among vegetables. Green asparagus has more nutritional value, but both are high in vitamins A, C, and B, including folic acid, in addition to potassium and calcium phosphate (good for bone structure).
Asparagus reached the New World around 1850. They continue to symbolize (the sweet smell of) spring.