What Makes White Asparagus White?

What Makes White Asparagus White?

Have you ever seen white asparagus at your market? It’s a pretty unusual vegetable, and if you do find it, I bet the first thing you’ll notice is the price tag!

So, what is this fancy veggie? Why is it so expensive? What gives it that white color? Is it even really asparagus? Let’s get to the bottom of this culinary mystery.

Types of asparagus

Most of us are familiar with “regular” asparagus, those beautiful green stalks that unofficially mark the start of spring. In my house, it’s one of the first reminders that we’re coming to the end of eating winter squash and root veggies nearly every night!

Here in the US, when we think of asparagus, we’re typically thinking of the green variety. White asparagus is pretty hard to find in the grocery store, and can only be found sometimes at the farmers market. White asparagus is actually more popular in Europe, and in Germany, it’s so popular that there are asparagus festivals every year to mark the start of the asparagus season.

Now, did you know that there is actually a third color of asparagus… purple?!? If you’re lucky enough to ever come across it (probably at your local farmer’s market), please let me know how it tastes! Purple asparagus is a sweeter and more delicate variety of asparagus, so I am sure it tastes delicious!

white asparagus

White Asparagus

To understand what makes white asparagus white, we first need to learn what makes green asparagus green.

Green asparagus, like all green vegetables, gets its color from the compound chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is a molecule that’s found in plants, and its main job is to absorb sunlight and turn that energy from the sun into fuel for the plant. It’s what makes the whole process of photosynthesis work. Starting to sound like high school biology class? Read more here.

So, if green asparagus is green because it contains chlorophyll, does that mean that white asparagus is white because it doesn’t have any chlorophyll?

Bingo.

White asparagus is the same plant as green asparagus, but it’s grown in darkness, either by being covered up by dirt mounds or with a thick tarp. It never see the light of day (literally!), so it never gets a chance to develop chlorophyll.

The reason why white asparagus is more expensive than green has to do with this different growing process. There’s more work for the farmer when growing white asparagus. They have to purchase and place a thick tarp, or move dirt around to always cover the tops of the asparagus as it grows. This extra labor translates to a higher price tag at the grocery store or farmers market.

It looks different, but does it taste different?

Besides just being a different color, many say that white asparagus has a more delicate and sweet flavor than green asparagus. It’s texture is also different. White asparagus spears are usually a little thicker than green asparagus, and they can be a bit fibrous. Many chefs peel the bottom two thirds of white asparagus stalks and simmer them until tender. Usually with green asparagus this step isn’t necessary.

green asparagus at the farmers market

Asparagus is a healthy and nutritious spring vegetable

Like all vegetables, asparagus contains many vitamins and minerals, and is a good source of fiber and antioxidants. All types of asparagus are known for being a good source of Vitamins K, A, and C and Folate. The high folate content makes asparagus a great choice for pregnant women, as folate is important to support a healthy pregnancy and your developing fetus.

If you’re trying to lose weight, asparagus itself is very low in calories, only about 20 calories per half cup. You can eat a lot of asparagus for very few calories!

Ways to cook with asparagus

Asparagus can be prepared in all different ways, from grilled to baked to steamed, even eaten raw! Involve the whole family and experiment with different meals using asparagus.

Worried that your kids won’t want to try asparagus? Let them explore it first, and don’t force them to try it. Kids love playing with the long asparagus spears, pretending that they are swords, snakes, or a silly mustache. Be a good role model for your kid and show them how delicious this veggie is!

Check out some of my favorite asparagus recipes from trusted food bloggers and chefs:

Lemony Roasted Asparagus from Cookie + Kate

Ham and Asparagus Quiche from Weelicious

Roasted Asparagus with Lemony Breadcrumbs from Martha Stewart

Baked Risotto from A Beautiful Mess

Red Potato and Asparagus Salad from Whole Foods Market

Lemony Pasta with Asparagus and Bacon from Serious Eats

Asparagus and Tofu Stir Fry from That Was Vegan?

Easy Sesame Asparagus from Family Food on the Table

 

What’s your favorite way to eat asparagus? Let me know in the comments!

 
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