What Is Purple Asparagus and How Do I Use It?

Add a textural snap, a flash of color and some excellent nutrients to your springtime meals with purple asparagus. Here we'll answer all of your questions, from what is purple asparagus to its health benefits.

Purple Asparagus
Photo: Helen Norman

Had enough root vegetables this winter? With spring around the corner, there is plenty seasonal produce to add to your meals, such as asparagus.

While this stalky, spear-like vegetable is a perennial plant available year-round, asparagus has peak availability between April and May. You can find the tastiest asparagus stalks during these months at your local grocer, specialty grocery stores and farmers' markets, including the less common varieties, like purple asparagus.

If you never had purple asparagus, then you must read on to uncover its secrets.

What Is Purple Asparagus?

Purple asparagus originated in Italy's Liguria region but has since been cultivated in many other countries.

The purple spears come in three main varieties, with slight physical and flavor profile differences:

  • Pacific Blue: Originally from New Zealand, these asparagus are larger and are less fibrous compared to other varieties.
  • Purple Passion: Grown in California, this variety has specks of green on their purple crowns.
  • Erasmus: This is a male variety with a deep purple hue and a sweeter flavor.

What's the difference between green and purple asparagus? What about white and purple asparagus? Like their green and white cousins, purple asparagus can vary in stalk thickness. The thicker stalks are woodier, more pungent, meaty and fibrous, while the thinner ones are soft, tender and crunchy.

If you have steered away from including asparagus as part of your meals due to their earthiness or grassiness, then you might want to give it a second chance, particularly with purple asparagus.

Like its white counterpart, purple asparagus is mild in flavor but sweeter than green asparagus. It has a higher content of natural sugars than other asparagus varieties.

Purple asparagus is also nuttier in flavor. When cooked, these purple, stalky vegetables resemble a blend of barley, almonds and artichokes.

Health Benefits of Purple Asparagus

Nutritionally, asparagus is low in sodium and calories and is fat- and cholesterol-free. It is also an excellent source of vitamin K, an essential nutrient for blood clotting. Every half-cup serving (or about 6 spears) of asparagus contains more than half of the daily recommended intake of vitamin K, based on a 2,000-calorie diet.

Undoubtedly a nutrition powerhouse, every 90 gram-serving of purple asparagus also provides more than one-third of your daily folate needs. This essential B vitamin helps prevent anemia and keeps the heart healthy. Folate is also a vital nutrient for women considering pregnancy because it helps to reduce the risk of neural tube defects in babies in the early weeks of their development.

Asparagus is also a source of dietary fiber, an important nutrient for supporting a healthy gut and decreasing the risk of chronic illnesses like heart disease and diabetes. In addition, the stalky vegetables also contain thiamin and riboflavin, both essential for growth and development as well as for an energetic metabolism.

But what makes purple asparagus stand out from their green and white cousins is its abundance of anthocyanins, a pigment that gives them the purple hue. Anthocyanins are also a powerful antioxidant that may have anti-inflammatory properties and protect against heart disease, diabetes and Parkinson's disease.

How to Prepare and Cook Purple Asparagus

Snappy purple asparagus can be eaten raw and is a colorful addition to almost any salad. They play well will most other vegetables, aromatics, herbs and even fruits like blueberries.

While purple asparagus loses its vivid color when exposed to heat, it is a versatile vegetable that adds visual appeal to a variety of cooked dishes, such as our Coconut Black Rice Bowls with Tofu & Purple Asparagus and Asparagus & Purple Artichoke Pizza.

To help cooked purple asparagus maintain its violet shade, you can blanch it quickly and shock the stalks in ice water, or put them on the grill over high heat and watch them closely. Even if it loses its color, lightly charred asparagus is delicious.

However, if you'd rather go after their taste and texture, you can use purple asparagus in place of the green and white in stir-fries, frittatas, and side dishes.

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