How to Select and Store Fresh Asparagus

Make the most of asparagus with these helpful tips for how to select and store fresh asparagus. In this FAQ, I’ll also share interesting tips, preserving thoughts and my favourite ways to use asparagus.

asparagus tips
In North America, you’ll get the freshest, most tender asparagus from April to June. You’ll also get it at the best price. Look for it at local farmer’s markets for the most amazing flavour.

Also Read: How to Make Oven-roasted Asparagus, April Foods & Meal Plan, Asparagus and Pickerel Sheet Pan Dinner

Common Questions Asparagus

Have a question that isn’t covered? Let me know in the comments below.

Fun Facts

Asparagus spears come shooting out of the ground at rapid speed – for a plant, that is. Spears can grow 10 inches in 24 hours!

It takes at least three years to establish an asparagus plant in a garden.

Thick asparagus does not mean the stem is old and tough. It just means the shoot came out of the ground strong and healthy from a well established plant, probably a little later in the season. Thin stems come from younger plants or from early on in the season from more mature plants.

Asparagus is the only vegetable that produces asparagusic acid. When we digest it, it gets broken down into sulfur compounds. When you pee after eating asparagus, these sukfur byproducts evaporate and cause a stinky odour. Not pleasant, but nothing to be alarmed about. And fun fact, not everyone smells the odour – so it’s possible the person next in line to use the bathroom may not smell anything! Read more on LiveScience.

There are different varieties of asparagus, some are more purple than green and each variety has a slightly different flavour.

Edible asparagus (Asparagus officinalis) is a member of the lily family, it is not actually a fern. It is related to the tropical house plant known as an asparagus fern (Asparagus densiflorus) (also not a fern). For safety sake, don’t eat any part of the house plant!

asparagus price
You’ll get the freshest, tastiest and best priced aspargus when you buy it in season. Here on the prairies you’ll see it on sale from April to July. Local asparagus will be at farmer’s markets May – June.

Asparagus is grown for it’s tender young shoots that emerge in the spring. Unlike most garden veggies, asparagus is a perennial plant. That means it grows back every year from the same root stock. It takes about three years before the first tips can be harvested. It is harvested early in the spring, when new tips emerge from the soil. Once they’re about 6-8 inches long, the tips are cut just below ground level.

asparagus coming out of ground
New shoots come out of the ground ready to be harvested.

Not every tip is harvested though – the plant needs to be allowed to grow some tips into their full size to ensure the plant can survive another year. Tips are harvested every 2 days for an intense 3-5 week period.

Have you ever seen an asparagus plant? It is incredible how large it becomes over a relatively short period. In just one summer, the stems grow into a large bushy fern. By winter, it all dies back and has to start from scratch again the following year. This cycle repeats itself for decades (about 8 years in cultivated crops).

fully grown asparagus plant
By mid summer, asparagus plants are full sized ferns. This one is just finished blooming (see tiny yellow flowers) and is ready to grow tiny round berries/seed balls which are NOT edible. At this stage, you do not want to eat any part of the asparagus plant.

Believe it or not white asparagus is the same as green asparagus – it’s just covered while it is grown to prevent sunlight from enabling the plant to photosynthesize and produce chlorophyll. The result is a very tender, white stalk.

Tending to white asparagus is very labour intensive and therefore it is much less common and more expensive. It is considered a delicacy by some. I know my German relatives are big fans of white asparagus!

white asparagus
White asparagus is more tender than it’s green version. It comes from the same plant.

Asparagus has a unique flavour that becomes more intense as it ages. It is a combination of grassy, earthy, sweet and bitter.

The best asparagus is fresh picked asparagus. Asparagus continues to age once it is harvested, that means it will get tougher and less sweet with the bitter/sour undertones becoming more pronounced.

While you can store it for 5-7 days, the sooner you eat, the more you’ll love it. That’s why it’s great if you can get it from your garden or a farmer’s market.

freshly picked asparagus
Fresh picked is the best.

Asparagus is low in calories and high in nutrients. The part we eat contains all the growing power of the plant – that’s some healthy stuff! It is particularly high in:

  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin K (particularly noteworthy)
  • folate (vitamin B9)
  • fiber
  • disease fighting antioxidants

To get the most tender green asparagus use these indicators:

Compact Buds – The buds at the tip of the asparagus should be compact, closed and tight to the stem. As the asparagus ages, these buds will open up and grow into branches.

Firm Stalks – The stems should be firm. There should be no limpness or flopping over when you hold the bottom of the stem. There should be shriveling or wrinkles along the stem.

Rich Green Colour – The stems should be a nice green colour with a little purple on the tips. The more yellow the stems, the older they are.

Nice Ends – Check the bottom ends of the spears. While the cut end will be somewhat dry, make sure the dryness doesn’t go too far up the stem. If it’s dry and scaly several inches up, pass on the bunch.

When you bring asparagus home – have a plan for it. Sure, you can store it for 5-7 days, but it tastes better the sooner you eat it.

Asparagus is best in the fridge with a little bit of moisture, you wan to prevent it from wilting and drying out. There are two key ways for storing asparagus.

  1. Keep it like a bouquet of flowers in a jar of water, in the fridge. Change the water every 2 days.
  2. Wrap a damp cloth around the bottom of the asparagus ends, place in a plastic bag and place in a high humidity crisper drawer. Do not seal the bag, allow for some air circulation.
asparagus wrapped in towel
A damp towel around the bottoms to keep it from drying out.

Yes! Toss cut asparagus into your favourite spring salads or add them to your crudites (fancy word for veggie and dip platter). You can also try peeling the asparagus lengthwise for a fancy ribbon salad.

Try a springtime salad featuring asparagus, radishes, peas and a chive lemon vinaigrette.

radish, pea and asparagus salad
Radishes, peas, asparagus with hazelnuts, creamy feta and lemon chive vinaigrette.

When cooking asparagus, think of flavours to complement the potential bitter flavour. Try:

  • lemon
  • balsamic vinegar (sweet and acidic)
  • salty foods: Parmesan cheese, bacon, prosciutto, pancetta, ham
  • salmon
  • cheese and cheese sauce
  • eggs
  • mushrooms
  • nutmeg (my mom’s favourite)
  • hollandaise sauce
  • lemon tahini sauce
  • garlic aioli

You’ve likely seen the advice to simply hold the stem and snap the asparagus so it will break at the magic spot between tough and tender. That’s partially true – the asparagus will snap – it will snap pretty much wherever you apply pressure – not necessarily at the line between tough and tender asparagus. With this approach, there’s a good chance you’re leaving behind a lot of good asparagus.

Before you snap, try moving your fingers down a few centimeters or half an inch to see if you can save and use more of the asparagus.

Alternatively, use a knife and cut the bottom 2.5 centimeters (1 inch) off the stem. Have a look at the cut end – does it look tough or tender? Trim more or less as needed – the goal is to have as little waste as possible.

For thicker stems, consider using a vegetable peeler to peel off the fibrous outer layer. That way you can enjoy more of the tender inside.

Once you have lovely stems all trimmed give them a nice rinse and pat dry. By patting dry, it will be easier to season your asparagus and prep them for grilling, oven roasting or pan searing. Don’t bother drying if you’re going to steam them.

You can compost the tough ends or save them for soup stock or asparagus soup.

Asparagus cooks up very quickly and can be done in several ways. You can roast, steam, pan sear or grill asparagus. It’s fabulous in egg or pasta dishes and can be turned into soup. And don’t forget to enjoy it in salads, sandwiches or vegetable platters. You could even make a quick pickle using asparagus.

Toss asparagus into dishes that could use a little green – no need for a recipe! Trust your instincts and remember that asparagus cooks fairly quickly, so add in the last few minutes of cooking. Start by replacing green beans or broccoli in recipes and go from there!

herb butter gnocchi
I took a bunch on a camping trip and made this one pan gnocchi, tomato and asparagus dish with herb butter. That’s glamping!
grilled asparagus
The simplest of all – grilled asparagus. Drizzle with oil and balsamic vinegar and a touch of salt and pepper to finish it off. I use a grill pan, but you can put the spears directly on the grill. Just watch, they grill up quickly!
grilled pineapple power bowl with chicken
See the asparagus in this grilled pineapple bowl?
finished pickerel with lemon and asparagus
Asparagus and fish sheet pan dinner.
asparagus on plate
Oven Roasted Asparagus with lemon pepper salt, hot pepper and butter.
bacon wrapped asparagus
Lightly coat in oil and season asparagus, wrap 4-5 spears in 2-3 slices bacon and grill for 10-15 minutes. Season with pepper.
asparagus and egg sandwich
Fried egg with lightly pan-seared asparagus on homemade sourdough.

Yes, you can. But honestly, it’s not my favourite veggie to freeze. It has to be blanched before freezing for 2-4 minutes. As a result, it will be soft when you’re ready to use it in a dish.

Use frozen pieces as is, without thawing in egg dishes, casseroles, stir fries or in soup. You can try roasting or grilling, but be prepared for very tender asparagus.

Yes, you can, but again, it’s not my favourite. It can be quite an overpowering flavour.

  • Blanch asparagus spears for 2-4 minutes (depending on thickness).
  • Arrange in single layer on drying trays.
  • Dry at 140°F/60°C in dehydrator.
  • Blanch asparagus spears for 2-4 minutes (depending on thickness).
  • Arrange in single layer on drying trays.
  • Dry at 140°F/60°C in dehydrator.
  • Dry for 4-6 hours. When done, asparagus pieces will be leathery to brittle.

Stay tune for more asparagus recipes throughout the season.

What’s your favourite way to enjoy asparagus?

Let me know if you try it down below in the comments or on Instagram @GetGettyS or on Facebook  @GettyStewart.HomeEconomist.

Getty Stewart is a Professional Home Economist,  speaker, frequent media guest and writer dedicated to you become more confident in using and enjoying fresh, whole ingredients. She is the author of several recipe books, frequent media guest, Founder of Fruit Share, mom and veggie gardener. Sign up to get articles by Getty delivered to your inbox. You’ll get recipes, practical tips and great food information like this.

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