Asparagus has been cultivated for culinary and medicinal purposes for more than 2,000 years. Versatile and healthy, it can be eaten raw or cooked, and is used fresh, frozen, or canned. Asparagus is generally available from April through June. Asparagus can be used in salads, side dishes, entrées or as an appetizer, and can be boiled, steamed, microwaved, roasted, or stir-fried. May is National Asparagus Month. Check out the following tips and information on buying, storing, and adding asparagus to a healthful eating plan.
Selection, storage, and preparation tips:
- Nutrition and health. Five medium asparagus spears have about 20 calories. All asparagus spears are not the same size, but this can be used as a general estimate. Asparagus has no saturated fat, sodium or cholesterol, is high in folate, and is a good source of vitamin A and C.
- Selection and storage. Choose odorless asparagus stalks with dry, tight tips that are similar in size. Avoid purchasing limp or wilted stalks. Refrigerate unwashed asparagus for up to four days by wrapping the end of stalks in a wet paper towel and placing in a plastic bag.
- Cleaning and preparing. Rinse asparagus stalks thoroughly in cool water to remove dirt and sand. Bend asparagus so that it snaps at its natural breaking point. This will remove the woody bottom.
- Cooking methods. When boiling asparagus, cook it in a wide skillet, with about 1 inch of water. If desired, add about 1 teaspoon of salt to the water. A good method when using asparagus in salads and cold dishes is blanching. Place asparagus in boiling water for about 3 minutes. Remove and immediately place in an ice bath. When roasting, cover a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and then place asparagus in a single layer on the sheet. Coat with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Rub to coat all spears with oil. Bake in an oven at 450 degrees Fahrenheit (F) for about 10 to 15 minutes. Purchase thick spears for grilling. Place asparagus spears on a medium-high heat grill coated with olive oil spray and cook for about 5 to 8 minutes until tender, turning occasionally.
- Great additions to meals and side dishes. Add steamed pieces of asparagus to scrambled eggs or omelets. Spread a soft cheese on whole-wheat crackers and top with a crisp asparagus head for an appetizer or snack. Place fresh or frozen asparagus in a microwave-safe container or in a saute pan with a small amount of water, low-sodium seasonings, and garlic for a side dish or snack. Put fresh asparagus in a plastic bag, drizzle with olive oil, pepper, and other seasonings, shake until coated, and then bake in the oven at 400 degrees F until crisp.
Asparagus is a long-lived perennial vegetable crop that is enjoyed by many gardeners. It can be productive for several years if given proper care. For more information about planting and caring for asparagus check out http://byf.unl.edu/asparagus. For more food, nutrition and health information from Nebraska Extension go to www.food.unl.edu.
Feel free to use/adapt Healthy Bites material (with credit) for your own articles, blogs, handouts, etc. An example credit line would be: Authored by or Adapted from Lisa Franzen-Castle, PhD, RD, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension Nutrition Specialist. Healthy Bites Newsletter, http://go.unl.edu/vdon, May 2015.
SNAP-Ed Connection — Asparagus. Check out this collection of recipes and resources related to Asparagus.
Freezing and Canning Asparagus. Two-page Brochure from Nebraska Extension on freezing and canning asparagus.
Growing Asparagus in the Home Garden. Fact sheet from Ohio State University Extension.
All the Healthy Bites. Healthy Bites is a newsletter that focuses on a different food, nutrition and / or health theme for each month.
Cook it Quick. Our goal is to make you "hungry for healthy food" by offering tips and delicious, quick-to-prepare, inexpensive recipes.
Food Fun for Young Children. Serving up quick, healthy snack ideas for younger children.
Nebraska Extension Food, Nutrition, and Health by the Month Calendar. National Food Days, Weeks, and Months for May.