What is asparagus?

Labour-intensive to grow, asparagus are the young shoots of a cultivated lily plant. They're considered to be one of the delicacies of the vegetable world, with a price tag to match, and have a distinct, intense savoury flavour. Sprue is the term for young, very slender asparagus.

While French asparagus is purple, the British and American varieties are green. In contrast, Spanish, and much Dutch asparagus, is white because it's grown beneath the soil and cut just as the tips emerge.

All types pack a nutritious punch, with high levels of vitamins A and C, potassium, iron and calcium.

Learn how to cook asparagus and read our guide about its health benefits.

How to prepare asparagus

Asparagus needs no preparation other than a wash. For larger asparagus (which will also have more flavour), bend the spear until it snaps and throw the woody end away. If the ends still feel tough, you can pare away the exterior to reveal the more tender flesh beneath.

Watch our video for advice on how to prepare asparagus:

How to cook asparagus

Boil (for 3-5 mins) or steam (4-5 mins, depending on size) then serve with hollandaise sauce or hot melted butter, or chop and bake it in a quiche. You can also combine it with peas, podded broad beans, young spinach leaves and basil for pasta primavera.

Brush with oil, sprinkle with sea salt and roast (for 15 mins) or grill (5 mins), then serve with parmesan shavings and a spritz of lemon juice, or wrap with strips of prosciutto.

See more asparagus recipes.

How to store asparagus

Wrap in damp kitchen paper, put in a perforated paper bag or wrap and keep in the salad drawer of the fridge. You can also store it in a glass or jug of cold water in the fridge.

When is asparagus in season?

Imports are available all year round, but the British stuff, which is reckoned by many to be the best, is available from May to July.

Learn how to grow your own asparagus from the experts at Gardeners’ World.

Choose the best asparagus

The tips should be tightly furled and perky, rather than limp, and the shoots should be straight and firm.

Alternatives to asparagus

Try French bean or mange tout.