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Asparagus


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Varieties

A member of the Lily family, the Asparagus's name comes from a Greek word that refers to all tender shoots picked and savored while young, another example being the scallion. Onions, garlic and leeks are also members of the Lily family. In a general way, the Lily family consists of more than 400 species that have bulbs, rhizomes, and tubers, which give the plant built-in protection against fire and draught, and make it fit to survive, even in the most adverse conditions. Many lilies also have elegant and beautiful flowers. The flowers, while cultivated by human beings, are actually meant to attract the plant's pollinators- the birds and the bees.

Out of doors, asparagus can grow in a wide range of climates, but it thrives in the Mediterranean basin, with its characteristic, subtropical climate of wet winters and dry, hot summers.

Conventional wisdom says so-called 'pencil' asparagus is more flavourful and tender than the fatter variety of asparagus spear. In fact, the reverse is true. The younger the plant, the fatter the spear it produces. You can tell if asparagus is fresh by looking at the tips, which should be folded tightly together, to keep the moisture in.
White asparagus is the same as green asparagus, except that it is picked while most of the plant is underground. Once exposed to sunlight, photosynthesis begins; the plant produces chlorophyll, and turns green.

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Storage

The best way to store asparagus is to stand it up in the high-humidity crisper in your refrigerator. It is best to eat asparagus within 3 to 4 days, but if stored at 32F, asparagus will retain over half its sugar content for as long as 14 days.

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Origins and Culture

Asparagus has been cultivated for over 2000 years, starting in the eastern Mediterranean region. Romans not only had detailed, 'how-to-grow' directions for asparagus, but they were also freezing asparagus to preserve it. But it wasn't until King Louis XlV of France had special greenhouses built to grow asparagus year round that it was called the 'Food of Kings.'

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Nutritional and Medicinal Properties

Planning to have children? Then asparagus is just what the doctor ordered. For expectant mothers, asparagus contains a third of the recommended daily allowance of folic acid, a B vitamin that has been shown in recent years to minimize birth defects. As for prospective dads, asparagus contains glutathione, an important antioxidant that helps maintain healthy sperm. For those not planning to have children anytime soon, six asparagus spears have only 25 calories and contain 4g of carbohydrates, 2g of dietary fibre, and 10% of the daily allowance for vitamin A, 15% for vitamin C, 2% for iron and calcium.

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Basic Cooking Instructions

When handling asparagus, it is not necessary to peel it, as some would suggest. Instead, hold the top half of each spear in one hand and the bottom half in the other, while bending each spear until it snaps. It will bend naturally where the toughest part meets the tender part. You can use the tough part to make stock and enjoy the tender part.

Asparagus can be boiled in a skillet, with just an inch or two of water, and a bit of salt - boil until the asparagus is tender, but retains its colour. Asparagus can also be steamed, stir-fried, or prepared as part of a pasta or risotto.

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