Gardening: A New Vegetable Discovery
Purple asparagus is an improvement over the green varieties.
For parents who are challenged with trying to get kids to eat vegetables, the stringy and slightly bitter taste of asparagus can be a turn off. Enter Purple Passion asparagus.
Unlike its green cousin, the purple variety does not have as much lignin. Lignin is what makes green asparagus stringy. In contrast purple asparagus is crisp and crunchy. With this and the fact it has 20 percent more sugar content than green asparagus, it is a wonderful vegetable. I find it is best eaten raw.
In fact over the holiday, it made the most colorful salad addition along with yellow carrots and orange tomatoes. The stalk interior is creamy with a green band, so it looks really interesting sliced on the diagonal. It is larger in girth than green asparagus with a tightly compressed bud.
Purple asparagus also will be tenderer when cooked. While many sources claim it loses its color and turns to green, mine remained a rather unattractive blackish color. Some lemon juice in the water would probably have helped drain the color or potentially cooking it longer. It was still a great menu addition.
It is not like white asparagus, which also has milder flavor compared to green. White is really a green asparagus that has been buried so no chlorophyll is produced. Purple asparagus is the result of a genetic mutation.
My search to learn more about Purple Passion led me around the world and then surprising once again right back to New Jersey. The label said “grown in Peru.” Not an heirloom vegetable, as I first suspected it was more recently discovered in Italy growing in Albenga along the Italian Riviera. It is also referred to as Viola or Violetta d’ Albenga, though Purple Passion is certainly more thrilling from a marketing standpoint. Passion and vegetables are quite a combination.
Initially hybridized over nine years for commercial production in California, it is Rutgers University that is conducting research on how to improve on Purple Passion. A lot of the top performing green asparagus varieties were developed here. This is undoubtedly connected to the fact that New Jersey is among the top five asparagus producers in the United States.
Now Howard Ellison, asparagus breeder at Rutgers, has produced a male hybrid that is more disease resistant. Numbered (NJ1192) and yet unnamed, this super purple asparagus has other improved features over Purple Passion including a higher yield but is lighter in color.
As all of us should have more natural color to our diets and avoid commercial dyes, purple asparagus, no matter the variety, is a good way to add color and antioxidants. According to Rutgers’ asparagus breeding program, anthocyanin is what makes it purple and enhances its nutritional content.
Asparagus contain iron, folic acid, riboflavin, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, zinc, fiber and Vitamin A, E, C and K, as well as important compounds called rutin and protodioscin. Rutin is an antioxidant and works as an anti-inflammatory. Protodioscin reportedly can help combat bone loss.
Because asparagus in general is relatively expensive and purple asparagus still hard to find, it is worth considering as a garden addition. Cost is affected by a number of factors, including the fact that while an asparagus patch can be viable for 20-30 years it can take three years to establish from seed. The best thing is to start with 2-year-old plants.
Asparagus also are expensive because of low yield and that fact that hand harvesting is necessary even commercially. Continual weed control is a labor intensive component of growing this vegetable. More than with other crops, allowing weeds will greatly impact plant production.