Asparagus – the king of vegetables

One of the most sought after vegetables usually signaling the arrival of spring is asparagus.  Farmer’s markets and supermarkets are brimming with this “king of vegetables” aptly named by France’s King Louis XIV who cultivated them in greenhouses so he could enjoy them throughout the year.

This tender perennial stem vegetable belonging to the Asparagaceae  family, was considered a prize delicacy by the ancient Greeks and Romans.  Asparagus is closely related to Liliaceae plants which also include onions and garlic.  Thought to have originated along the coastal regions of eastern Mediterranean and Asia Minor regions, it is one of the oldest known vegetables.

Health benefits of asparagus

Asparagus is naturally rich in many different healthy nutrients and compounds we can take advantage of.  This “king of vegetables” is a must buy not only for its delicious flavor but to obtain its powerful nutritional benefits:

·         Asparagus is packed with antioxidants helping neutralize cell-damaging free radicals that lead to accelerated aging.

·         Asparagus helps our brain fight cognitive decline.

·         Asparagus contains a rich source of glutathione, a detoxifying compound helping break down carcinogens. 

·         Asparagus has high levels of the amino acid asparagine, which is a natural diuretic increasing urination helping rid the body of excess salt.

·         Asparagus is one of the best sources of the B-vitamin folate important in preventing neural tube defects in infants.

·         One cup of asparagus provides 70 percent of your daily need for vitamin K. Vitamin K improves bone health by increasing calcium absorption and reducing urinary excretion of calcium.

·         Asparagus contains no fat or cholesterol.

·         Asparagus is very low in sodium.

·         Asparagus contains 3 grams of fiber in a 5.3 ounce serving.

·         Asparagus is a significant source of thiamin and vitamin B6.

·         Asparagus is one of the richest sources of rutin, a compound which strengthens capillary walls.

Interesting side note on asparagus

After eating asparagus, some people will notice a distinctive funny smell to their urine detected as early as 15 minutes after eating this spring delicacy. This is completely normal and has been observed for centuries.

It is believed that during digestion, the vegetable’s sulfurous amino acids break down into smelly chemical components in all of us.  The components are “volatile” meaning airborne to where the odor wafts upward as the urine leaves the body. 

But not all people will notice this smell. Anywhere from 22 to 50 percent of the population report having pungent pee after eating asparagus even though everyone produces it.  It is also estimated only about 25 percent of all people can smell these compounds.  This is because they have a special gene that allows them to smell the odor from the compounds – or maybe they just have a really good nose!

Selection and storage of asparagus

Asparagus is found year round in supermarkets but the spears are at their peak and most flavorful during the spring. When choosing asparagus, look for stalks that are firm, straight, smooth, and uniform in size.  The color should be a dark green with tightly-closed caps.  Stalks to avoid are ones with wide ridges in the stems and dull-colored which usually indicate older stalks which will not be as flavorful.

Store asparagus in the refrigerator set at 38-40 degrees F as higher temperatures will cause it to lose natural sugars, vitamin C as well as flavor.  They will also become tough and begin to decay if kept at room temperature. 

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