Since ancient times, asparagus has been considered a delicacy. Its cultivation began more than 2,000 years ago by the Greeks and Romans. The name “asparagus” comes from the Greek word for “sprout.”
In the 16th century, this spring veggie became popular in England and France. It earned its title “Food of Kings” due to its popularity with the king of France. King Louis XIV enjoyed asparagus so much, he had special greenhouses built so he could enjoy asparagus year-round.
Asparagus is said to have an aphrodisiac effect! In 19th-century France, bridegrooms consumed three courses of these delicate spears at their prenuptial dinners. According to registered dietician Debra Nessel, the abundance of folic acid found in asparagus boosts histamine production, which is necessary for reaching orgasm.
Asparagus contains anti-inflammatory and antioxidant nutrients (including vitamin C, beta-carotene, vitamin E, manganese, selenium and zinc)—some of the best risk reducers for common chronic health problems including Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and certain types of cancer. Additional nutrients prevalent in asparagus include vitamin K, vitamin A, folate, iron, potassium and choline.
Nessel warns that, due to the high amount of vitamin K found in asparagus, certain individuals might need to watch their consumption. “Those folks taking prescriptive blood thinners like Coumadin and Warfarin may want to limit intake,” she says. “For those individuals, I would suggest that they check with their doctor and dietitian for a tailored diet plan.”
Asparagus is rich in fiber, with about 3 grams per cup—making it a digestive-friendly choice. It also contains a considerable amount of protein (4 to 5 grams per cup) for a green veggie. In addition, asparagus contains a noteworthy amount of B vitamins. The fiber, protein and B vitamin combo helps regulate blood sugar and promotes a healthy heart. Nessel recommends eating this healthy stalk regularly.
After consuming asparagus, some individuals may notice a distinct smell to their urine. According to Nessel, “Asparagus contains a sulphurous compound called mercaptan (also found in rotten eggs, onions and garlic). When your digestive system breaks down mercaptan, by-products are released that cause the strange smell. The process is so quick, your urine can develop the distinctive smell within 15 to 30 minutes of eating asparagus.” Nessel explains that not everyone will experience this effect, as genetics determine whether one has the gene for the enzyme that breaks down mercaptan.
When selecting asparagus, look for rounded stalks. The stems should be firm and thin with either deep green or purple closed tips. To keep the asparagus fresh, store in the refrigerator with a damp paper towel wrapped around the woody end. Keep in mind that the woody ends of the stalk will need to be cut off and discarded before preparing.
With a mildly sweet taste, green asparagus is versatile and can be prepared a variety of ways. The key to successfully preparing asparagus is not to overcook it. The spears should be tender but not mushy or shriveled. Nessel recommends steaming, roasting or grilling after lightly marinating with olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper to enhance the flavor.
Get creative and have fun! It’s hard to go wrong with such a delicious, heart-healthy veggie like asparagus!
Spicy Stir-Fried Asparagus
- 1 1/2 pounds pencil-thin asparagus (or substitute small or medium asparagus, split lengthwise)
- 1 tablespoon olive, peanut or canola oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tablespoon grated ginger
- 1 serrano or other fresh hot chile, finely chopped
- A large handful of basil, mint and cilantro leaves
- Snap off and discard the tough bottoms of each asparagus spear. Cut the asparagus into 2-inch lengths.
- In a wok or skillet, heat the oil until nearly smoking. Add the asparagus, season with salt and pepper and stir well, making sure the asparagus is coated with oil. Continue to stir-fry over high heat for about 1 minute, until the asparagus looks bright green and is barely cooked. Add the garlic, ginger and chile and stir-fry for 30 seconds more.
- Transfer to a serving platter and scatter herbs on top. Serve immediately.
4 to 6