What’s the Difference Between White and Green Asparagus?

updated Apr 17, 2023
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Top to bottom: Asparagus close-up on a plate and green background. White asparagus on paper, close up
Credit: top to bottom: Daria Yakovleva / Getty Images; Westend61/ Getty Images

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 exactly is the difference between white and green asparagus?

What’s the Difference Between White and Green Asparagus?

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, produce chlorophyll, and turn green.

Does White Asparagus Taste Different Than Green Asparagus?

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.