The 3 Colors of Asparagus
Like many vegetables, asparagus can be different colors and have varying flavor profiles depending on where and how it was grown and when in the maturation process it is harvested.
Ranging from pencil-thin to very thick, most American asparagus is of this variety. It is grown above-ground in direct sunlight. This exposure to sunlight results in the production of chlorophyll within the vegetable, which in turn gives it this green color. The green variety also has the strongest “asparagus flavor” of the three. The best quality spears are thick with tightly closed heads, even though the general conception is that the thin ones are young and more tender.
Preferred in Europe, these sunlight-deprived stalks are a little milder and more delicate. The white color comes about from the process of etiolation, or growing the plant in absence of light. Dirt has to be constantly covering the plant as it grows in order to prevent the exposure to light, thereby preventing the chlorophyll to develop and keeping the vegetable pale in color. This process is also more labor intensive which makes this variety of asparagus more expensive as well.
It is difficult to find fresh in the United States, but widely available canned (usually in jars). In fact, most of the white asparagus in the United States comes from Peru. This variety gets so little attention in the US, that the California Asparagus Commission and the United States Department of Agriculture do not even keep data on it.
While green and white asparagus are the same, purple asparagus is a different variety. This variety was originally developed in the Albenga region of Italy. The purple hue is only cosmetic, as the pulp of the vegetable remains green or even white. This type of asparagus is known to have a more fruity, nutty flavor than the others due to the fact that it contains roughly 20% more sugar. It also has a lower fiber content, which makes it more tender by comparison.
The purple color of the flesh is a result of anthocyanins, which are potent antioxidant flavonoids that have protective and preventative health benefits, including anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.