Asparagus, or garden asparagus, folk name sparrow grass, scientific name Asparagus officinalis, is a perennial flowering plant species in the genus Asparagus.
Its young shoots are used as a spring vegetable. It was once classified in the lily family, like the related Allium species, onions and garlic, but the Liliaceae have been split and the onion-like plants are now in the family Amaryllidaceae and asparagus in the Asparagaceae.
Sources differ as to the native range of Asparagus officinalis, but generally include most of Europe and western temperate Asia. It is widely cultivated as a vegetable crop
White asparagus is very popular in Europe and western Asia. White asparagus is the result of applying a blanching technique while the asparagus shoots are growing. To cultivate white asparagus, the shoots are covered with soil as they grow, i.e. earthed up; without exposure to sunlight, no photosynthesis starts, and the shoots remain white.
Compared to green asparagus, the locally cultivated so-called „white gold“ or „edible ivory“ asparagus, also referred to as „the royal vegetable“, is believed to be less bitter and much tenderer. Freshness is very important, and the lower ends of white asparagus must be peeled before cooking or raw consumption.
Only seasonally on the menu, asparagus dishes are advertised outside many restaurants, usually from late April to June. For the French style, asparagus is often boiled or steamed and served with Hollandaise sauce, melted butter or olive oil, Parmesan cheese, or mayonnaise. Tall, narrow asparagus cooking pots allow the shoots to be steamed gently, their tips staying out of the water.
During the German Spargelsaison or Spargelzeit („asparagus season“ or „asparagus time“), the asparagus season that traditionally finishes on 24 June, roadside stands and open-air markets sell about half of the country’s white asparagus consumption.
The green crop is significant enough in California’s Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta region that the city of Stockton holds a festival every year to celebrate it; as do the neighboring villages of Shelby, Oceana County, Michigan, and Hart, Michigan, complete with a parade and asparagus queen.
The two villages alternate each year as the host of the festival. The Vale of Evesham in Worcestershire is the largest producer within Northern Europe, celebrating with the annual British Asparagus Festival involving auctions of the best crop, an „Asparagus Run“ modeled on the Beaujolais Run and a weekend „Asparafest“ music festival.
Many German cities hold an annual Spargelfest (asparagus festival) celebrating the harvest of white asparagus. Schwetzingen claims to be the „Asparagus Capital of the World“, and during its festival, an Asparagus Queen is crowned.
The Bavarian city of Nuremberg feasts a week long in April, with a competition to find the fastest asparagus peeler in the region. This usually involves generous amounts of the local wines and beers being consumed to aid the spectators‘ appreciative support. Helmut Zipner holds the world record in asparagus peeling.