Asparagus – the delicate delicacy
Asparagus is a spring vegetable and a perennial plant. It is a rich source of Vitamin A, C, K and E and minerals like chromium. It helps in fighting cancer cells and is an effective anti-oxidant; it is both a diuretic and a brain booster. The demand for asparagus is increasing and so is the supply. There is a good demand for asparagus in the global retail market; however Germany and Switzerland have relatively low demand.
Asparagus growth to harvesting is a time-consuming process
Asparagus is a perennial vegetable that is grown in the Midwest. Generally, growing asparagus takes a lot of time; from the initial planting stages to harvesting it takes about two and a half to three years. To meet the demand for fresh asparagus, it is imported from South America and Mexico. However, the shelf life of asparagus is very less. It starts to degrade as soon as it is harvested, which makes it extremely perishable and susceptible to getting spoilt. By the time the harvested asparagus reaches the markets and from there to the consumers’ dining tables, the taste, the originality, the quality and the texture are different; in fact people will not like it and may discard it. To get the actual taste and experience the feel and flavour of this gourmet vegetable, it is advisable to grow asparagus in the backyard as fresh picked asparagus is tender, sweet and full of flavour. Early spring is the right time to plant asparagus. A dozen bare roots of asparagus (also referred to as crowns) are sufficient to maintain an entire family’s appetite.
The saga of White Asparagus
Japan is becoming popular for its fresh white asparagus cultivation. Thick and sweet, white asparagus is famous as a springtime delicacy. The demand for white asparagus in the retail vegetable markets and in restaurants in Tokyo has boosted the cultivation volume of white asparagus. They do not turn green if they are kept away from light. In Japan, the farms where white asparagus plants are cultivated, are usually covered to block sunlight with the help of contraptions resembling a tunnel. The white asparagus grow slower as compared to green asparagus. Hence they grow even sweeter and thicker than green asparagus and are shipped after they attain a length of 27 centimetres. As they turn green on exposure to light, they are generally harvested at night or early in the morning.
The green asparagus variety is generally harvested in summers and in the spring season whereas the white asparagus variety is harvested only in the spring season. Saga Prefecture in Japan claims to be the second largest producer of asparagus in volume after Hokkaido. In Saga Prefecture, around 30 households grow asparagus. Post the harvest, they are brought to the sorting facilities in the city of Tokyo and shipped via air transport to the metropolitan areas. Moreover, rarely harvested, extra thick stalks of white asparagus, almost 3 centimetres in diameter, which are called as the white jewel (Shiroi Hoseki), are used in gift giving. White asparagus is used in a variety of dishes such as sushi, miso soup, curry and kakiage mixed tempura. Care must be taken while storing uncooked asparagus in the refrigerator so that it remain fresh for a longer period of time.