Facebook LinkedIn Email Pinterest Twitter Instagram YouTube Icon Navigation Search Icon Main Search Icon Video Play Icon Plus Icon Minus Icon Check Icon Print Icon Note Icon Heart Icon Filled Heart Icon Single Arrow Icon Double Arrow Icon Hamburger Icon TV Icon Close Icon Sorted Hamburger/Search Icon


Save to Recipe Box
Add Private Note
Saved Add to List

    Add to List

Add Recipe Note

What is it?

A cultivated member of the lily family, tender green stalks of asparagus signal the arrival of spring. While green asparagus is most common, asparagus can also be white or purple. White varieties are mounded with soil to keep sunlight out; because the spears develop in darkness, they don’t produce chlorophyll, so they never turn green. Their skin is slightly tougher and their flavor is milder. Purple asparagus, a relative newcomer, is an attractive alternative to green. But unless you apply vinegar or lemon juice to the spears before cooking, they will discolor. Truly versatile, asparagus is delicious steamed, roasted, sauteed, and grilled. Its sweet, slightly nutty taste goes well with all kinds of flavorings, including delicate herbs, citrus, garlic, ginger, sesame oil, hard grated cheeses, eggs, mushrooms, ham and bacon, cream, and shellfish, particularly shrimp.

Asparagus: Color Key
There are approximately 300 species of asparagus plants within the Asparagus genus, but we eat just one: Asparagus officinalis. While the green variety is most common, purple and white asparagus can also be found in some farmers’ markets and specialty stores.

Its sweet, grassy notes become more vegetal with age. Although it’s available in supermarkets much of the year, it’s best consumed from early to late spring, when it’s more likely to be harvested from a local source.

It’s sweeter, tenderer, and produces fewer stalks per plant than its green cousin. Also known as Violetto d’Albenga, this variety originated in northwestern Italy (these days, it’s also grown in California). To preserve its color, use it raw or cook it briefly; the longer it cooks, the more likely it’ll turn from purple to green.

White asparagus is less bitter and more tender than its green counterpart. It’s pale because it’s grown covered in dirt, so it’s never exposed to sunlight and doesn’t develop chlorophyll. White asparagus is increasingly available year-round, but has a sweet, slightly artichoke-like flavor and silvery color.

Both white and green asparagus are Asparagus officinalis, a plant that has been cultivated in Europe for thousands of years. It grows best in sandy, saline soil, so it’s often farmed in coastal regions. It’s unclear who discovered that mounding dirt around asparagus stalks as they grow makes them white, tender, and sweet, but the practice became common in France in the mid-1600s and spread throughout Western Europe, where white asparagus is now more common than green. Labor-intensive to grow and therefore costly, it’s been slow to take off in much of the world, but growers in Central America, Mexico, and California have made it more available in North America.

White asparagus can be used in any recipe that calls for green asparagus. It’s crisp and refreshing when sliced thin and eaten raw, as in the salad at right. If you’re cooking whole spears, trim the bottom ends—they tend to be woody and tough, like green asparagus— and then peel the stalks to remove their skins, which are tougher and stringier than green asparagus. Brushed with olive oil and grilled (or broiled), steamed and topped with hollandaise, or puréed in a creamy soup are all delicious, traditional preparations. Pickled white asparagus makes a fun garnish for a Bloody Mary.

Kitchen math:

1 lb. fresh = 12 to 20 spears (depending on size) = about 3-1/2 cups chopped

How to choose:

Although asparagus is available much of the year, its true season lasts only a few glorious weeks in April and May. Commonly sold in bundles of about one pound, it’s often displayed standing upright in a tray of water. Choose fresh-looking, firm, straight, and smooth spears with tight tips. Check the cut ends of the stalks; they should be moist, not dried out.  Stalks should not be dry at the cut ends or limp. Open tips or ridges along the stem indicate old age; these stalks will be less flavorful and have a tough, woody texture.

Although some cooks think that pencil-thin asparagus is tenderer than fatter spears, this isn’t necessarily the case. Both can be tender, but it’s the beefier spear that usually has a better texture. Medium-thick asparagus spears—about 1/2-inch diameter at the base—have more sweet, tender flesh and a tastier skin-to-flesh ratio than thinner spears. Look for firm, straight, smooth spears with tight tips.

No matter its size, each spear has a set number of tough fibers that run its length. In a skinny spear, those fibers are crammed together, with less juicy flesh between them. In fatter spears, those fibers are further apart, separated by more sweet, tender flesh. But asparagus of any size can be sweet and tender as long as it’s fresh.

How to prep:

To prepare spears for cooking, trim away the tough, white woody base from the end of the asparagus spears. To ensure you’ve trimmed enough, cut off a sliver of the end and eat it: It should be tender. You can also snap off the bottom of the spear with your hands (it should break naturally where the stem starts to toughen), though you’ll probably waste more tender asparagus than necessary. If the asparagus is thick-skinned or fibrous (take a small bite to test), peel the spears from just under the head to the stem end. Use the fibrous ends for stock or for your compost pile. 



How to store:

Trim a little off the ends and stand the spears upright in a container in an inch or so of water. Cover loosely with a plastic bag, and store in the back of the refrigerator. If you refresh the water every 2 to 3 days, the asparagus should keep for at least 1 week.

When buying white asparagus, look for tight tips, evenly thick stalks, and ends that feel slightly moist. Some people prefer thicker stalks because they’ll yield more asparagus after peeling, but the stalk’s girth is not related to tenderness. Asparagus becomes tougher and more fibrous as it dries out, so refrigerate it loosely wrapped in damp paper towels and use within 2 or 3 days of purchase.


Leave a Comment


  • tpmike | 03/30/2016

    Great work....

  • User avater
    chatrooms | 02/01/2014

    One of my favorite snacks :)

  • greygram | 05/08/2009

    Even my six-year old granddaughter loves asparagus. I need to
    try some that has been roasted, in the oven. I think it will be very good.

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published.


View All


Follow Fine Cooking on your favorite social networks

We hope you’ve enjoyed your free articles. To keep reading, subscribe today.

Get the print magazine, 25 years of back issues online, over 7,000 recipes, and more.