Asparagus Facts

Bunches of information! There’s so much to learn about Washington fresh asparagus: Selecting & storing, about the plant itself, health benefits, and insights into local production. Choose from the categories below to “stalk up” on asparagus facts!

  • Shopping, Storage, & Prep

    Get Washington asparagus chef-recipes here

    When selecting asparagus, choose odorless, green firm stalks with dry, compact tips.

    The difference in spear diameter has no bearing on fresh asparagus’ flavor, texture, color, or tenderness. European chefs prefer thicker stalks.

    To store, wrap the ends of the stalks in wet paper towel and place them inside a plastic bag. Asparagus are thirsty; this method prolongs its quality.

    Refrigerate immediately and use as soon as possible. Asparagus’ sugar will turn rapidly to starch, which impacts the flavor.

    To prepare the asparagus, rinse asparagus under cool water, then snap or cut off the white part of the end of the stalk (approximately the bottom half-inch).

    The woody, cut ends are great for flavoring soup stocks.

    Simple stovetop prep: In a large saucepan, bring 8 cups water to a boil. Season with 2 tablespoons coarse salt, and add one trimmed bunch of asparagus; boil for approximately three minutes (depending on thickness). Remove with tongs, or drain in a colander, and immediately transfer to ice water to stop the cooking process and to retain vibrant color.

    Asparagus is incredibly versatile; prepare it steamed, simmered, roasted, grilled, sautéed or wok-fried.

  • Asparagus Basics

    Asparagus is a member of the lily family and is related to garlic, onions, and leeks.

    In addition to green fresh asparagus, there are also white and purple varieties.

    White asparagus comes from the same kind of plant as green. Exposure to sunlight turns the stalks green. When dirt is piled on top of the plant, photosynthesis is inhibited and the stalks remain white.

    Purple asparagus is an entirely different variety. White and purple make up a tiny fraction of the U.S. market.

    Asparagus has been cultivated worldwide for over 2,500 years. It is presently widely grown and consumed in Asia, Europe, and South and North America.

    Asparagus is one of three vegetables in North American cuisine that comes from a perennial plant (along with artichokes and rhubarb).

    Asparagus plants are very long-lived, and can last up to 25 years. Asparagus plants have been known to live for 100 years.

    For about nine months of the year, the asparagus plants lie dormant.

    Asparagus is a “dioecious” plant, with both male and female plants.

    High-yielding all-male asparagus are favored in commercial production.

    The all-male hybrid benefit is that it doesn’t produce seed and produces more spears than female plants.

    Asparagus spears from all-male hybrids are usually very uniform.

  • Nutrition Facts

    Asparagus contains no fat, no cholesterol and is very high in fiber.

    Asparagus is a good source of folate, glutathione, vitamin A, and vitamin C.

    Folate helps in the formation of blood cells and prevents birth defects; in a half-cup serving, asparagus has the highest folate content of all vegetables.

    Glutathione is a potent anti-carcinogen and antioxidant. The National Cancer Institute states that Asparagus has one of the highest concentrations of glutathione, one of our most potent antioxidant defenses. Glutathione levels in cooked asparagus do not diminish (vs. fresh).

    Vitamin A helps to form and maintain healthy teeth, skeletal and soft tissue, mucus membranes, and skin. It is also known as retinol because it produces the pigments in the retina of the eye.

    Vitamin C is needed for the growth and repair of tissues in all parts of the body (healing wounds, and for repairing and maintaining bones and teeth).

  • Farming in Washington

    Washington’s mineral-rich volcanic soils, abundant natural water supply, warm sunny days and cool nights provide ideal growing conditions for asparagus.

    The harvest season for Washington State typically runs from late March to June.

    Asparagus takes approximately two years from planting to harvestable maturity.

    Asparagus can grow as much as 10 inches in one day in peak season!

    Asparagus is labor intensive, accounting for 60 percent of the cost of asparagus. An asparagus farmer must harvest his or her fields of asparagus every day of the season. Because the fragile spears rise from the earth in different places daily and are relatively fragile, each one must be individually hand-cut from the ground.

  • Washington State Production

    Washington State is the largest grower of asparagus in the United States.

    Recently, Washington has increased its organic production of fresh asparagus, now accounting for approximately 8% of its annual crop. Washington organic asparagus can be found in supermarket organic produce departments.

    There are roughly 60 Washington asparagus farms within a 100-mile radius of Washington’s Tri-Cities.

    Washington asparagus is produced on roughly 4,500 acres spanning the Columbia Basin, the Yakima Valley and the Walla Walla area.

    The average Washington State asparagus farm is 75 acres.

    Washington State goes an extra step above USDA standards for its U.S. Number One asparagus to offer “Extra Fancy” fresh asparagus, which means tighter, more uniformly-packed stalks and superior quality. In this respect, Washington is a standout as a supplier of fresh domestic asparagus.

  • Economic Impacts

    Since 2016, year-over-year production of Washington asparagus has grown. In 2020 approximately 19.3 million pounds of Washington asparagus were harvested, with an economic impact of roughly $52 million for area growers and packers.

    In recent years, scientific advances in growing techniques and more intensive farm management have led to higher yields with less planted acres in Washington State, and the yields show excellent quality.

    In the global picture, the U.S., Mexico, Peru, China, and Germany are the leading world producers of asparagus.