Used for cooking and medicinal purposes for over 2,000 years, asparagus is one nutritious perennial garden plant! See, and you thought all it was good for was turning your pee green!
Among its many health benefits, asparagus logs off-the-charts levels of Vitamin K (more than 115% recommended daily allowance (RDA) per 1 cup serving!), which is important for heart health and calcium regulation. In addition, asparagus also boasts high levels of folate that, when combined with Vitamins B6 and B12 (as is the case in asparagus), can protect against heart disease and other cardiac ailments. Asparagus also contains a hefty dose of potassium, which combines with an amino acid called asparagines to cause a diuretic effect as well as a healthy type of carbohydrate called inulin that clears the intestinal tract of unhealthy bacteria and promotes good digestive health.
But a discussion about asparagus wouldn’t be complete without some serious details on the effects it has on urine. Quite boringly, the green color is the result of simple chlorophyll (the chemical that gives all green vegetables their hue), but the smell? Well, that’s a little more complex. Turns out asparagus contains a type of sulfur called mercaptan which, interestingly enough, is the same chemical that gives onions, garlic, spoiled eggs and even skunk secretions their odor. When asparagus is consumed, this chemical is broken down in the gut, leading to less-than-sweet-smelling urine. Never experienced sour smelling pee? Not to worry, turns out about a third of people don’t have the gene for the enzyme that breaks down mercaptan, meaning that it leaves them – and their pee – relatively unaffected.
Moving out of the bathroom and into the kitchen, asparagus comes in green, white and even purple varieties (although the purple does turn green during cooking.) When selecting asparagus, look for thin, firm stalks and deep green or purple-tinged tips. To store, wrap the base of the asparagus in a damp paper towel and store in a plastic bag at the back of the fridge (since exposure to light can compromise the folate content of the vegetable). When ready to cook, asparagus is delicious steamed, broiled or sautéed with a light sprinkling of olive oil and sea salt or a simple spritz of lemon juice.