Asparagus

Availability: All year - sporadic.

Source: Central/South America, Europe and the U.S.

Handling Tips: Store asparagus at a constant temperature of 37 degrees to 41 degrees fahrenheit with at least 95% humidity to prevent shrinkage, weight loss, and decay. When displayed, keep asparagus cool and moist.

General Information: Asparagus is available green, white and purple. White asparagus, popularized in Europe, is kept covered from the sun to retain its white color. Purple asparagus, now being grown more commercially, is striking in its own right. Both are wonderful when boiled or steamed and served with butter and lemon. High in vitamin A. Good source of vitamin C and iron.

Nutritional: Asparagus is delicious, beautiful, packed with nutrients and easy to do ahead for a crowd. One serving of Asparagus is low in calories and very low in sodium. Asparagus is an excellent source of folic acid and is a fairly significant source of Vitamin C, Thiamin, and Vitamin B6. Asparagus contains no fat or cholesterol of dietary significance. It is an important source of potassium and many micronutrients. According to the National Cancer Institute, Asparagus is the highest tested food containing Glutathione, one of the body's most potent cancer fighters. Additionally, Asparagus is high in Rutin, which is valuable in strengthening the blood vessels.

History: The name, asparagus, derived from Greek, means "sprout" or "shoot," and the vegetable belongs to the lily family. Asparagus cultivation began more than 2,000 years ago in the eastern Mediterranean region. Greeks and Romans prized asparagus for its unique flavor, texture and alleged medicinal qualities. They ate it fresh and dried the vegetable to use in the winter. In China, candied asparagus spears remain a special treat.

In the 16th Century, asparagus gained popularity in France and England, and early Colonists brought it to America. King Louis XIV of France so enjoyed this delicacy that he ordered special greenhouses built for a year-round supply. Hence the reference to asparagus as "Food of the Kings."

The first documented production of asparagus in California dates back to 1852.

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