Every spring, white asparagus makes a brief appearance in markets. So brief that if you blinked you might miss it. Now, you're probably asking yourself, why is white asparagus so hard to find, so elusive? It's because there's a demand for it, especially from restaurants, which buy up the vegetable as soon as it hits the markets. Chefs consider it a rare spring delicacy (among the likes of ramps and fiddleheads) and appreciate it for its mellow flavor. In Europe it's treated like a king of vegetables, typically simmered and topped with hollandaise or vinaigrette. But what really makes white asparagus unusual, so weird, is the fact that it's grown in complete sun deprivation, making it the vampire of the vegetable world!
Other than color, there's no difference between green and white asparagus -- white asparagus is simply green asparagus that hasn't been allowed to turn green. The way white asparagus is grown is that it's covered in a thick layer of mulch and dark plastic so that no sunlight reaches the spears.This way the vegetable never gets a chance to turn green because no photosynthesis takes place. This process, termed etiolation, creates pale white asparagus spears that have a more delicate flavor than their green cousins. And, if you think about it, it's all really manufactured hype. But hey, if it's good enough for chefs why not the rest of us?
So the next time you're in the market, keep an eye out for white asparagus. Sometimes you can find it at farmers' markets, locally grown. But you might have better luck finding white asparagus at the supermarket -- it's commercially grown in South America and Europe and transported around the world (the reason why it costs double or triple the price of green asparagus).
There's a bit of a difference between white and green asparagus when cooking. An important preparation must not be skipped: Make sure to peel the bottom two-thirds of each spear because white asparagus tends to have a thick and bitter skin. Boiling in salted water is the best technique for cooking white asparagus. But it's also good roasted or grilled.
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Browse our slideshow to see recipes and videos on white asparagus.