As veggies go, asparagus can sometimes get a bad rap. With its speared shape and notorious ability to make pee smell weird, many of us avoid making asparagus a regular part of our diets. But we definitely should be eating it because asparagus, which reaches its peak harvest season in April, is a detoxifying superfood.
ASPARAGUS: MADE FOR DETOX
As we explained in last month’s post, foods that come into season in early and mid spring are overflowing with nutrients like zinc, selenium, prebiotics, and a wide range of vitamins including A, B6, B9, B12, and K - exactly what our bodies need in early spring to cleanse the organs and prepare for warmer temperatures and increased activity.
Like leafy greens and cruciferous veggies, asparagus is loaded with sulfur and chlorophyll, which helps to detox heavy metals like mercury and lead, but asparagus packs several other added punches, too. It’s an excellent source of glutathione, a detoxifying compound that aids in purging carcinogens and free radicals from the body, and asparagus also contains a chemical called asparagine that helps to flush out excess waste from the kidneys. Since the kidneys are responsible for maintaining appropriate pH in the bodies, the diuretic cleansing effect of asparagus also helps keep our cells appropriately alkaline and disease-resistant.
And, thanks to its ability to break down toxins in the liver, asparagus even works as an excellent hangover remedy, reducing alcohol toxicity by increasing liver enzymes and encouraging healthy liver function.
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE WEIRD-SMELLING PEE?
We’d be remiss if we didn’t at least mention the slightly inconvenient downside of asparagus: It makes your pee smell weird. But only for a little while. And it’s a perfectly normal side effect.
The reason you may notice malodorous urine after chomping down on some asparagus is because asparagus contains a chemical aptly called asparagusic acid. When digested, this acid breaks down into sulfur-containing compounds. These compounds are volatile, meaning they can vaporize into the air, allowing you to smell them. But because asparagusic acid on its own is not volatile, asparagus doesn’t smell the same way your urine might. If you’re still concerned, well, maybe you’ll be lucky: Not everyone can smell these sulfurous compounds. Some people don’t notice any smell at all.
GET YOUR ASPARAGUS ON
Ready to add asparagus to your spring menu? It’s easy! First, you’ll want to select your variety. American or British asparagus is green, French asparagus is purple, and the Spanish or Dutch variety is white in color. Don’t stress over your choice, though: All of them taste pretty much the same.
In terms of menu planning, it’s easy to incorporate asparagus into your weekly meals. Roasted asparagus is incredibly easy (and even more delicious with Lemon Basil herbed salt from this month’s local featured farm, Hummingbird Gardens), but asparagus is also surprisingly tasty eaten raw. Whether roasted or raw, sliced or chopped, or even lightly steamed asparagus makes an excellent topper for a detoxifying spring salad. Or you can get creative and turn your spears into fries!
BUY LOCAL, EAT LOCAL, LOVE LOCAL
Want even more good news? Asparagus is rarely sprayed with pesticides or herbicides thanks to the fact that it’s harvested so quickly. The tasty spears are the first shoots of the asparagus plant that come up in spring, and they’re trimmed almost as fast as they appear. There’s no time for damage to occur before harvest, so no treatments are needed. While it’s still best to look for asparagus grown in organic soil because of the added nutrients, you’re safer consuming non-organic asparagus than many other spring veggies.
Organic or not, your local farmers’ market is always the first place to look for firm, fresh asparagus this time of year. Whether you head out to Manakin Market in Goochland or stop by St. Stephens’ Farmers Market on Grove, remember to look for Making It Real’s booth, too! MIR owner and head chef Ginger is happy to chat about what’s available and where and introduce you to RVA’s local farmers.