Q: I noticed both purple and white asparagus at my local farmers’ market. How are they different from the green variety, and should I be seeking them out?
There are differences in both taste and nutrition, and here’s why. White (or blanched) asparagus spears are created by covering the budding spears with dirt, depriving them of sunlight, and thus inhibiting photosynthesis, leaving them pale. White asparagus has a more mild or delicate flavor than your usual green asparagus. Since it is more labor intensive, it is generally more expensive than green asparagus, but I highly recommend trying it. Purple asparagus is generally much shorter and tastes fruitier. Its beautiful purple color is derived from powerful phytonutrients called anthocyanins. Cook it only briefly to retain both its crispness and color.
Whichever color you choose, asparagus is a great addition to your meal. Per cup, it contains a modest 26 calories, and provides 3 grams of fiber and 4–5 grams of protein. Asparagus is rich in antioxidants, which help fight free-radical damage. Asparagus is also a good source of B vitamins and copper, and provides 16 percent of your daily value of iron per cup. To keep your spears moist and tender, store them in a glass of cool water (like cut flowers) or wrap the ends in a wet towel until you are ready to cook them. Cook only briefly—two minutes per side on a grill or in a sauté pan with olive oil or vegetable stock, and enjoy!
Clinical nutritionist and certified sports dietitian Lauren Antonucci is the owner/director of Nutrition Energy in New York City.
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