One of the miracles of the modern world is that we're able to find fresh fruit and vegetables in our local supermarket any time of year, and most of it even tastes okay. But off-season produce pales in comparison to the deliciousness you can get when items are in season, either at your local grocery store or at your neighborhood farmers' market. Come spring, of all the vegetables that start to fill the markets, asparagus is one of my favorites. The tender, sweet, crisp stalks are the best this time of year. Asparagus is not only delicious, but it’s also extremely nutritious, versatile, and easy to prepare.
Nutritionally, there aren’t too many vegetables that top asparagus. It is a good source of vitamin A, C, E, K, and folate. It contains dietary fiber, which helps keep you feeling full longer, aids in good digestive health, and helps transport bad cholesterol out of the bloodstream and body. Asparagus also contains glutathione, which is involved in many processes in the body, including tissue building and repair, maintaining a strong immune system, protecting the body from toxins, and promoting longevity.
The antioxidants in asparagus help fight harmful free radicals and may help slow the aging process and the folate in asparagus may help prevent cognitive decline as we age. And if all that weren’t enough, asparagus is a natural diuretic, which helps the body release excess fluid and salt, making it helpful in reducing edema and high blood pressure in some individuals and flushing out toxins in the kidneys, and preventing kidney stones.
And then of course, asparagus is special for the phenomenon of asparagusic acid, the strange, semi-unpleasant scent coming from your urine after you eat asparagus. The science goes something like this: Asparagusic acid, as the name implies, is a chemical found in asparagus. When our bodies digest asparagus, they break down the chemical into a group of related sulfur-containing compounds with long, complicated names (that end in sulfide). And of course, many things that contain sulfur smell kinda stinky - rotten eggs, natural gas, and skunk spray. When you pee, these compounds evaporate, which enables them to travel from your urine, through the air, up your nose, so you smell them. Interestingly, not everyone is familiar with the Asparagus Pee phenomenon. Researchers are not sure if this is because some people don’t produce the smell or if they are unable to perceive it. What about you? Do you experience Asparagus Pee?
To be honest, I haven’t always been a huge fan of asparagus. In fact, as a kid, I refused to eat it. But now I can honestly say that it’s one of my favorite vegetables and a staple in my home. I love it grilled, oven-roasted, sautéed, lightly steamed, and even raw. It’s delicious on its own with a little salt and pepper, tossed in a fresh salad, served in pasta primavera, omelets or frittatas, or risotto for a perfect spring meatless main dish.
One of my favorite ways to make asparagus is also one of the simplest. Trim the tough, woody ends off a bunch of asparagus, toss the spears with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, season with a little salt and pepper, and roast at 400 degrees in a preheated oven, or grill either directly on the grates or in a grill basket, for about 5-15 minutes depending on how thick they are, and then squeeze a half a lemon over the warm spears.
If you haven’t enjoyed asparagus in a while, there is no better time than now. What is your favorite way to prepare asparagus? Please comment below and let me know!