My youth was haunted by a literary character in the form of a vampiric rabbit, aptly named “Bunnicula,” who was believed to suck the juice out of vegetables, leaving them a ghostly white. I was much older than I’d care to admit before I accepted that this was not the probable cause for pale produce such as cauliflower, radishes, parsnips, and especially white asparagus. I mean, white asparagus? C’mon, there’s even an OG green version that looks exactly like it! That was all the evidence I needed; clearly one vegetable was before Bunnicula and the other after Bunnicula. How can evolution and science possibly team up to justify and explain a white plant in a world where health messages are all about “eating the rainbow,” or at least eating greens? White food in general is hardly synonymous with that which is nutritionally impactful, so what possible purpose can white asparagus serve?
Charged with learning the truth, turns out there’s a pretty basic explanation. (I’m still gonna pin cauliflower on Bunnicula, though.) Since white asparagus is one of the first spring vegetables to bravely poke through the barely-thawed ground, let’s spend a few moments getting to know this enigmatic shoot and collect a few recipes to celebrate this year’s glorious return of plants.
What is white asparagus?
In short, white asparagus is simply green asparagus that hasn’t seen the sun. (Boring compared to vampire rabbits, amirite?) The asparagus spears have either remained under ground, or have grown in complete shade (natural or man-made) to prevent photosynthesis from taking place and therefore halting the development of chlorophyll, that which makes things green. Biologically, white and green asparagus are identical, and share the same seasonal produce timeline. The difference between them is simply evidence of nurture versus nature.
Where does white asparagus grow?
Growing white asparagus is the same as growing green asparagus, which has a very wide climatic range of possibility, so long as someone or something wants to provide the sunscreen. Asparagus stalks are perennial plants that will start to show themselves annual once the temperature reaches about 50 degrees. White asparagus production is rarely done in the United States, though you may catch it at a farmers’ market or two, but it is a prized crop in both Peru and Germany especially, where is is known as Spargel and is the cause of much fanfare in the spring during white asparagus season.
Is white asparagus good for you?
Even minus the greenery, yes. White asparagus has nearly the same beneficial nutritional impact of green asparagus, fiber and antioxidants chief among those benefits. (Bunnicula be damned! You haven’t got the best of white asparagus!) To be fair, green asparagus has more of both of these, but seriously, so long as you’re consuming vegetables no need to split hairs over micro doses of the good stuff. Eat the rainbow. And some white veggies too while you’re at it.
How should you cook with white asparagus?
Dishes highlighting white asparagus generally keep it pretty simple to let its natural tenderness and subtlety of flavor shine. Try the most delicate spears raw, or else try cooking it by blanching in boiling water and then shocking it in an ice water bath to preserve its character and texture. No need to bury it like your winter body under complicated layers. Butter, lemon, herbs, eggs, and hollandaise tend to be white asparagus’ favorite dance partners.
Short of of just cutting it from the ground and eating it fresh, this simple, effective recipe just brightens the white asparagus up with a flash of lemon and dill in a gently sweet vinaigrette. Get the Tangy Lemon Dill White Asparagus recipe.
This is legit the most springtime dish I’ve ever seen. Delicate crepes freckled with herbs, within which are gently folded tender spears of white asparagus. A light, delicious sauce adorns the plate and yes, just a bit of ham to remind you that it’s springtime in Germany, too. Get the White Asparagus, Spring Herbs, and Crepes recipe.
White asparagus meets another pale twin, potatoes, in a light soup that works as well hot when the chill still finds the air, or cold, when the thermostat inevitably spikes to 80 sometime this month for no apparent reason. Get our White Asparagus Soup with Pistachios recipe.
White asparagus is as good an excuse as any for dusting off one of my favorite dinner party tricks: making mayonnaise from scratch. (Seriously your friends will be dazzled.) A dose of mustard and a touch of herbes de Provence bring some easy jazziness to the occasion. Get the White Asparagus with a Provençal Lemon Mustard Mayo recipe.
Bonus hint: Try asparagus of any color with its natural wine pairing, Austria’s Gruner Veltliner, to echo its unique vegetal taste.
Header image courtesy of Shutterstock.