Long, tender green spears of asparagus are a spring favorite. We wait all winter for the first glimpse of them at the farmers market, but its pale sibling, white asparagus, doesn't get quite the same fanfare — at least not in North America. In Europe, its appearance is perhaps even more celebrated. Beyond the obvious difference in color, what else sets white and green asparagus apart?
Growing Conditions Make All the Difference
The difference between green and white asparagus is that white asparagus is grown underground. As the spears of white asparagus grow, they're completely covered with a thick mound of dirt or black plastic so they're never exposed to the sunlight. This prevents them from producing chlorophyll, the green-tinted molecule that's responsible for turning sunlight into energy.
Green asparagus, on the other hand, is exposed to sunlight. Growers allow the spears to poke freely out of the dirt, producing chlorophyll, and turning green.
Is There a Difference in Flavor?
White asparagus has a more delicate flavor than green. While green asparagus is a bit grassy, white asparagus is sweeter and has just a hint of bitterness. This delicate flavor is perhaps why it's so prized in Europe. The short-lived white asparagus season in parts of Europe inspires the same frenzy ramps do in the U.S.
White asparagus spears tend to be thicker and more fibrous, so it's important to peel the bottom two-thirds. Traditionally, they're simmered in salted water and drizzled with melted butter or dipped in hollandaise sauce, but they can also be grilled or roasted just like green asparagus. Just be sure to cook them until they're tender. While green asparagus spears are thin enough that they can be enjoyed while still a bit crisp, white asparagus is so thick that it really needs to be cooked all the way through.
Have you tried white asparagus? What differences do you notice between the two?