Have you ever been walking through your grocery store and stumbled across a stark-white, pointy-looking vegetable and thought to yourself, is that some kind of weird asparagus?
If so, you’d be onto something!
White asparagus and green asparagus are actually the same vegetable – they just go through different growing processes, which is how they end up with different colors and slightly different flavors. They can be used in the same ways, though!
So, what kind of flavor, texture, or other differences do these growing processes produce? What does white asparagus taste like?
White and Green Asparagus Overview
Green and white asparagus, while two sides of the same coin, have some interesting differences to consider, especially when it comes to preparing them to cook. Read on before you throw your white asparagus into the sauté pan!
What is White Asparagus?
White asparagus is green asparagus that’s never seen sunlight.
It’s a bit misleading to say that it’s grown completely underground, though. Both green and white asparagus grow upwards out of dirt. White asparagus, however, is consistently covered and re-covered with more layers of dirt or dark plastic.
This growing process is what stops it from being exposed to sunlight, and how it gets its bone-white color. It doesn’t go through photosynthesis, so it doesn’t develop the green chlorophyll pigment.
It’s mostly similar to green asparagus, in shape, size, and recommended food pairings. The main differences beyond color are a milder taste and a thick, fibrous outer layer that needs to be peeled before cooking.
White asparagus tastes slightly different than green asparagus. It has a milder flavor, so could be a good alternative for people who don’t like the grassy taste of green asparagus.
White asparagus is not something we see often in the United States, but in countries like Germany, it’s a common and oft-found vegetable. In fact, there are festivals that take place from April-June in Germany celebrating white asparagus!
In the United States, white asparagus is usually a bit expensive. It’s only available for a small portion of the year, and the growing process is more attention-demanding than green asparagus or other vegetables. You’ll find it pre-packaged more often than freshly grown.
Most white asparagus in the United States is imported from Peru. Because they travel so far, they often lose their freshness and can end up tasting bland by the time they’re in the US supermarkets.
There’s actually three grades of white asparagus to be aware of. Grade 1 is the freshest, so keep your eye out for these factors if you want to cook white asparagus:
|Grade 1||Grade 2||Grade 3|
|Perfectly white, no pigment||Slightly pigmented from minimal sun exposure – purple or pink tips||Usually half white and half purple or even green, if not maintained well|
|Thick and straight stalks, moist from water retention||Slightly curved stalks||Fully curved or bruised stalk|
|Tightly closed tips||Slightly opened tips||Tips as open as regular asparagus|
Uses of White Asparagus
White asparagus can be cooked and eaten in all the same dishes as its counterpart, green asparagus. It can be used as a substitute for pretty much any vegetable, in any dish. The flavor of white asparagus is a bit more mild and delicate than green asparagus, so the cooking preparations have room to vary slightly.
German white asparagus, traditionally called spargel, is one of the most traditional ways to consume this cool-looking vegetable. Luckily, it’s pretty easy to cook – just like green asparagus.
The best way to prep cook white asparagus is to remove the tough, chewy stems. This is also true for green asparagus. The easiest and most efficient way to do this is to bend the asparagus stem until it snaps off. This vegetable has a knack for finding its natural break point, and tends to snap exactly where the flesh turns tender and cookable.
Unlike green asparagus, you’ll need to peel white asparagus about 1 ½ in from the tip of each spear before using. It has a semi-thick and highly fibrous outer layer that’s not so enjoyable to eat, unless you like the feeling of food stuck in your teeth. Removing these will make the asparagus soft to bite.
To make spargel, you’ll snap off those asparagus ends and peel those fibers in preparation for pairing with salt, sugar, and butter. Add the latter three ingredients into a pot with water, and bring to a boil.
After the water boils, lay the asparagus into it. Cover the pan, reduce the heat to medium, and simmer the asparagus for 8-10 minutes. You can also test if they’re cooked by inserting a knife. If it comes out smoothly, your white asparagus is ready.
You can serve spargel the traditional way with melted butter and ham, as well as boiled potatoes covered in Hollandaise sauce on the side.
If you’re not interested in serving this food the German way, asparagus is always nice with butter, parmesan, and lemon juice. Or, just keep it simple with salt and pepper.
White asparagus’s light, tangy flavor also pairs nicely with seafood, chicken, pork, white wine, and other light food components like these. Think of green asparagus pairing nicely with dark foods like red meat and red wine, in comparison.
The most important thing to remember when cooking white asparagus is to remove those tough, fibrous strands on the outside. This is more important than removing the ends – those can be removed at any time. However, if you forget to peel it, it’ll be much harder to do so after cooked and the texture won’t be optimal.
Finally, avoid cooking white asparagus in the microwave. It’s likely to lose its tightly sealed moisture and dry out if cooked this way. Here’s an article we researched about other vegetables you can cook in the microwave.
White asparagus is also often found pickled in the United States. The pickling process allows the vegetable to maintain flavor, though it’s not the natural flavor of fresh-picked white asparagus. This kind of white asparagus will usually be found in a jar.
Benefits of White Asparagus
White asparagus offers similar benefits to green asparagus, since it’s the same vegetable (minus the color).
The lack of pigment and chlorophyll in white asparagus means it contains a lower antioxidant content than green asparagus. Green vegetables are generally one of the richest sources of nutrients in the food pyramid, so white ones like cauliflower and white asparagus don’t always compare.
However, white asparagus still has pretty decent nutritional value!
White asparagus contains a lot of fiber, like most vegetables. It’s low in carbohydrates, calories, and especially fat, which means you can consume a good bit of it without worrying about weight gain. It’s a healthy snack or side or any meal.
It’s actually lower in calories than green asparagus. There’s 19 calories for every 100g of green asparagus, and only 15 calories in 100g of white asparagus.
It also contains iron, potassium, B vitamins, zinc, and sodium. Regular consumption of these dietary minerals can really help in maintaining a healthy and strong immune system.
All varieties of asparagus are high in vitamin K, which is linked to lowered rates of heart disease. It’s also an aid in bone formation and neuron damage reduction in the brain.
What is Green Asparagus?
If you’re from North America, green asparagus is probably more familiar to you than white asparagus.
Green asparagus grows out of the dirt and up into the sun’s rays throughout its growing process. Sunlight exposure causes it to produce chlorophyll, a green pigment used in the photosynthesis process.
Green and white asparagus are similar in shape, uncooked texture, and size. Green asparagus has a more textured tip, with tendrils protruding. Its outer layer is the same texture as the inside, so it doesn’t require any prep beyond snapping off the tough ends.
Like white asparagus, most green asparagus in the United States and Canada come from Peru. Asparagus grows well in a maritime habitat, which means it likes soils near salty waters. Often, when they’re grown in inland habitats, salt is added to their soil. Because of the added saline, other plants aren’t usually able to share their soil.
The plant they’re most often paired with for growing is the tomato. The tomato plant repels asparagus beetles, one of the asparagus plant’s main predators, while asparagus repels root nematodes that devour tomato plants.
Asparagus, white or green, are only eaten when they’re young. The buds on the tip begin shooting out when they’re too old to eat, and the flavor turns woody.
Asparagus growing season spans from the early spring to midsummer.
Uses of Green Asparagus
Green asparagus appears in many different cuisines, from Cantonese to Italian. It’s most often served as an appetizer or a side dish, unlike white asparagus, which appears as a main dish in spargle.
It grows more tender than white asparagus, so doesn’t require boiling or peeling to soften. It’s commonly served roasted in an oven, pan-seared, or grilled. The grassiness of green asparagus pairs well with a charred flavor from the grill.
To prepare asparagus, you must snap off the tough ends as is required for white asparagus. From there, the most popular and simple serving method in the United States is with garlic, lemon, and Parmesan.
Toss your snapped asparagus in olive oil, salt, and pepper, and spread on a baking sheet. Roast in the oven at 425 degrees F for 12-15 minutes. After, drizzle with lemon juice and parmesan.
Benefits of Green Asparagus
Like white asparagus, green asparagus has low calories. It has far more nutrients, though, due to the photosynthetic process.
It’s higher in antioxidants than white asparagus, particularly vitamin E. This antioxidant is boosted when prepared with olive oil: our body processes vitamin E better when paired with healthy fat.
It offers all the same health benefits as white asparagus, plus the boosted amounts of antioxidants that help maintain a healthy immune system and ward off diseases.
It’s slightly calorically higher, but if you’re looking to eat for health, green asparagus offers more benefits.
What are the Differences between Green and White Asparagus?
Is white asparagus the same as green asparagus? Yes and no.
Because white and green asparagus are technically the same plant, they prefer the same salted soil and same companion plants.
Both of them dislike soil that’s too moist or shallow.
Think of green and white asparagus as being the same by nature, but not by nurture. They’re raised differently.
The main difference is that during its growing process, white asparagus is isolated from the sunny world. As it’s repeatedly covered with soil or a tarp to prevent the photosynthetic process, it grows in a pseudo-underground darkness. This way, its white color is maintained and its flavor stays milder.
Green and white asparagus are both mainly grown in China and Peru. The majority of both in North America come from Peru, while China ships more often to Europe.
Germany is the main importer of white asparagus in the world.
Does white asparagus really taste different than green asparagus? We’d argue that it does.
Green asparagus tastes grassier and more vegetal – think, the taste of something clearly grown outside. The flavor is bright and substantial.
White asparagus, on the other hand, has a much milder flavor. In fact, it almost demands being accompanied by a sauce. Otherwise, it wouldn’t taste like much.
It’s a bit sweeter than green asparagus, and is often compared to a turnip.
Do you need to prepare white asparagus differently than green asparagus?
The two are perfectly available to be cooked the same way, but white asparagus truly requires more preparation. That is, unless you want fibers stuck between your teeth.
Make sure to peel ⅔ of your white asparagus before consuming. The stalk is tougher than green asparagus, so boiling them briefly can be helpful in making sure they’re tender.
Because the white asparagus stalk is tough, it really needs to be cooked through. White asparagus can require a longer cooking time than green asparagus for this reason.
Which is Better between Green and White Asparagus?
To help answer this question, we compiled a chart with the main differences between green and white asparagus, as well as what we believe to be the pros and cons of each.
|Novelty for US buyers, not seen often||Rarer, so more expensive and less fresh|
|Unique recipe and flavor||Mild and semi-flavorless, so requires a sauce, AKA more cooking|
|Can be a main dish||Requires more prep than green asparagus with peeling|
|More accessible, cheap, and fresh in the United States||Not as exciting as white asparagus|
|Easier to prepare||Grassier taste|
|Easier to cook and more flavorful, so doesn’t require a sauce||Usually served as a side dish|
So, is white asparagus better than green asparagus?
The answer to this question is mostly subjective. We highly recommend trying both and deciding for yourself.
If you’re looking for a fun, new vegetable to try, white asparagus is superior in that sense. But, if you’re looking for an easy and quick snack or side dish, green asparagus is the way to go.
It depends totally on the occasion, your palate, and your desires for whatever meal you’re cooking. Based on the pros and cons, each have different strengths and weaknesses.
However, on a day-to-day basis for the average US consumer, green asparagus has a better price point, is more accessible, and offers more nutrients than white asparagus. It’s not as exciting, but novelty doesn’t protect your health!
Is white asparagus healthier than green asparagus?
White asparagus is not healthier than green asparagus. Green vegetables notoriously offer more health benefits than white ones, so if you’re looking for a nutrient-rich vegetable, opt for green asparagus.
Both do have the benefit of being rich in vitamin K, though. If you’re looking to up your heart health or bone density, you can’t go wrong with either.
Does white asparagus taste the same as green asparagus?
White asparagus has a slightly sweeter and milder flavor than green asparagus. Some see it as bland, and it’s usually paired with butter or hollandaise to accentuate the subtle flavor already there.
Green asparagus does not taste the same as white asparagus. It’s grassier, more tangy, and clearly tastes like an outdoors vegetable.
Should you peel white asparagus?
It’s highly recommended that you peel white asparagus. It’s thick and fibrous around the stalk, and not as naturally tender as green asparagus.
Peeling ⅔ of the stalk, starting about 1.5 inches from the tip, will make this vegetable much easier to chew. If you don’t peel, the inside will turn mushy and the outside will be difficult to bite through.
Asparagus is really a great vegetable, whether it be white, green, or purple – maybe we’ll cover that last one someday.
The differences between white and green asparagus are numerous, but they can serve the same purpose as a delicious compliment to any meal. They share a unique relationship, having so many differences but being technically the same plant.
We find ourselves wondering, is it useful to think of them as the same plant when they require different forms of preparation, have different flavors, and are popular in different parts of the world?
Different by nurture, but not by nature.