What is Asparagus?

British Asparagus Bundles
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The answer to the question what is asparagus depends on your persepctive. If you've never eaten it asparagus is a tender succulent, flavoursome vegetable that is most simply eaten lightly steamed with melted butter. The part that is eaten are the first young shoots that come up in spring and the very tips of the shoots are the asparagus tips that are incredible tender and delicious.

What is Asparagus? The Dictionary Definition

The Collins dictionary defines asparagus as a noun:

  1. "any Eurasian liliaceous plant of the genus Asparagus, esp the widely cultivated A. officinalis, having small scaly or needle-like leaves
  2. the succulent young shoots of A. officinalis, which may be cooked and eaten"

and the Oxford English dictionary defines it as :

"  A plant ( Asparagus officinalis, family Liliaceæ) cultivated for the sake of its vernal shoots, which form a well-known delicacy of the table. Bot. The genus which contains this among many other species"

What is Asparagus? The Scientific Classification

Asparagus Fern Growing in a fieldAsparagus Fern

The scientific classification is alluded to in the dictionary definitions.

Asparagus is a Genus of the Liliaceae family a sub group of flowering plants. There are of the order of 100 genus' in the lilaceae family one of which is Lilium (which we commonly know as Lily's) and another is Asparagus L.  While there are around 30 species of Lily there are only 5 species of asparagus these being:

Asparagus africanus Lam. – African asparagus

Asparagus asparagoides (L.) Druce – African asparagus fern

Asparagus densiflorus (Kunth) Jessop – Sprenger's asparagus fern

Asparagus officinalis L. – garden asparagus

Asparagus setaceus (Kunth) Jessop – common asparagus fern

The vegetable we know as asparagus is the young shoots of Asparagus Officinalis L.

What is Asparagus? The Gardeners Description

The gardener's will be interested to know that the garden asparagus is a perenial plant that lives for many years (in good conditions typically 15 years or more) with young shoots growing form a crown or tuberous root system each year and developing into a tall wispy fern each year before dying back in the autumn.

It can take some time and patience to get a good asparagus bed growing but it is well worth the wait.

What is Asparagus for the Cook or the Consumer

Asparagus Shoots ready for PickingShoots Ready to Pick

Asparagus is at its best as a fresh vegetable. As already explained it is the young shoots of the asparagus officinalis plant and is in season in the spring (April to June in the UK). Locally bought produce eaten just after cutting has a very distinctive flavour advantage over imported  produce but imported produce is now available year round in Europe and North America typically from Peru, Mexico and occasionally Thailand. 

The fresh produce is harvested and sold when the shoots are between 6 and 10 inches in length and range from slim , 0.5cm - 1cm to around 1.5 cm in thickness. How thick the shoots are is not an indication of quality or flavour with different varieties having different thicknesses and all sizes coming with great flavour.   A well closed tip that has not started to flower is favoured, as are straight stalks but you may pick up a very flavoursome bargain if you find a supply of "wonky asparagus" that the supermarkets don't want!

Cooking asparagus is easy but there are lots of different ways to cook it and many many recipes to try out.

As well as green asparagus some varieties come with a purple colouring and these can be very sweet. You may also come across white asparagus (especially on the continent), this type of asparagus is grown from the same varieties of asparagus as the green produce but by a different growing process. Earth is mounded up as the shoots grow depriving them of light such that they are then harvested whilst still white. This type of asparagus is very popular in Germany and usualy needs peeling.

Finally you will also find canned asparagus, both green and white. Ultra thick white asparagus is sold as a premium product and attracts a premium price. Whilst fresh green and purple asparagus are widely enjoyed the appreciation of white and canned varieties are subject to more regional variation. 




Gus enjoying Asparagus SeasonGus enjoying Asparagus Season

The easiest way to cook Asparagus!

All you need is a microwave a plastic Fish / Veg. Steamer and and our instructions.

Asparagus ready to cook in the microwave

Take look at some of our Interesting and Popular Pages


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If you want the

Basics of how to cook fresh asparagus

start by looking at How to Cook Asparagus first for some background information on a range of cooking methods.


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