Asparagus has always grown wild in the Mediterranean basin and Asia Minor.
In Ancient times, the Romans invented asparagus farming (Apicius gives a recipe for pureed asparagus with egg), the Egyptians immortalized this "stalk of love and pleasure" (asparagus had at that time a reputation as an aphrodisiac) in their bas-relief sculptures, while the Greeks also ate it and used it as a medicinal plant.
Centuries later, Louis XIV of France became obsessed with it to the extent of wanting it on his table during all seasons of the year. He liked to dip it into soft-boiled egg. His head gardener, La Quintinie, devised a way of growing it in greenhouses and in hotbeds.
Asparagus farming was introduced at Argenteuil, France, in the 17th century. Charles Depezat, a gendarme who was stationed there during the 1870 Siege of Paris, took back a number of plants with him on his return to his village of Vineuil, in the Loir-et-Cher region. This is how the Loire Valley asparagus industry was born. Its cultivation later spread to Aquitaine and southern France.
The technique of growing asparagus in hotbeds was adopted in most of Europe, but it never gained a foothold in North America, where green asparagus was preferred.
During his time at the Savoy in London (1890–1897), Auguste Escoffier became strongly convinced of the need to encourage the cultivation of green asparagus – also preferred by the English – at Lauris, in the Vaucluse region of France.
Asparagus has spread to all the continents. China is the leading exporter of preserved asparagus. Peru, the United States, Mexico, and Spain are the leading producers.
The stalk should be firm, stiff, and brittle: Moisture should appear as beads when peeling. The tip should be firm and shiny.
Fresh asparagus is sold packed in boxes, or loose by the kilogram.
The spears are classified by length (12–27 cm) and diameter (3–12 mm).
Asparagus is also available preserved in cans and jars (whole or tips), or frozen (only green).
When very fresh, green and purple asparagus does not need peeling, unlike the white variety. It is enough just to remove the rigid scales that are found on the spears.
Asparagus can be eaten raw, steamed, poached, roasted or in meat juices; cold, hot, or warm.
They are excellent in omelets, in pastry, pureed, in soup or creams, gratinated with Parmesan, in risotto (cooked or raw), in bavarois, or as part of the famous Argenteuil-style scrambled eggs.
Store asparagus in a cool room or in the refrigerator, wrapped in a damp cloth and protected from light.
They should only be stored for a very short time, as the tips harden and the stalks quickly become fibrous.
While low in calories, asparagus is high in antioxidant carotenes, fiber, and B group vitamins, particularly in folic acid. Only green asparagus contains vitamin C.
Asparagus contains a highly aromatic molecule, asparagine, which gives urine a unique smell immediately after a meal.
There are three main types of asparagus, which depends on how they have been cultivated.
The shoots are grow entirely in the soil, kept away from the light and air.
The varieties Asperge des Sables des Landes, Asperge du Blayais (white with a small purple tip), the Espárrago de Navarra from Spain, and the Asparago Bianco di Cimadolmo from Italy enjoy PGI status.
Purple asparagus spears grow out of the soil. They are thick and tender, with a fine and distinctive flavor.
Green asparagus spears grow entirely in the open air. They are the most flavorful variety.
The varieties Espárrago de Huétor-Tájar from Spain and Asparago Verde di Altedo from Italy enjoy PGI status.
Wild asparagus is picked in the scrubland of southern France, and in Spain and the Maghreb region. It has a more pronounced flavor than cultivated asparagus. It is very thin, with a diameter of 1–7 mm. Naturally green in color, they should not be confused with small green asparagus, which sometimes have a diameter of 3 mm.
France: the asparagus season is short, lasting only from March through late June. However, imported green asparagus from Mexico, Spain, Turkey, and Greece is available all year round.
United States: the season lasts from February through June; while in Chile and Mexico it runs from July through December.