Weather dependent, Ontario Asparagus is typically available from Mid May through early July. It is the first field crop of the Ontario season, truly a harbinger of the new season!
While asparagus is a perennial plant that lives forup to twenty years when properly managed, it takes 2-3 years before it is mature enough to harvest. When mature, asparagus grows so fast that it needs to be cut daily, or even twice a day! Under ideal weather conditions, an asparagus shoot, or “spear”, can grow 25 cm (10”) in a 24-hour period. This makes the short season very intense as every acre is harvested by hand!
Harvesting asparagus is a physically demanding job with over 3,500 acres of land to cover EVERY DAY! Each spear is hand-picked entirely with harvest crews riding through the field on carts. A knife isused to cut asparagus and then it is cooled, graded and packed before shipping. Most of this work is still done manually.
Plus, asparagus is a sensitive crop, so that means it is intensely monitored throughout the day and night.
After harvest, the asparagus plant grows into a tall fern which must also be supported by farmers. A healthy fern is essential to “recharge” the root of the asparagus plant, to feed the growth for the next season.
Ontario Asparagus comes from 95 different family farms on over 3,500 acres! They produce the majority of asparagus grown in Canada!
One bunch (typically one pound (500 g) of asparagus is two-four servings, depending on use.
Although best eaten fresh, asparagus can be refrigerated for 5-7 days.
To store, wrap stem ends in damp paper towels, then cover the entire bunch with plastic wrap. Alternatively, place spears in water like cut flowers & top with a plastic bag. Both options are stored in the fridge to maintain freshness!
Check out a video including storage tips on our YouTube Channel/Local Partnerships.
Asparagus is very good for you!
- Asparagus has only 20 calories and zero fat, per ½ cup serving, about 6 medium spears.
- Excellent source of folate. One serving of asparagus provides 134 mcg of folate (over 30% the recommended daily requirement [RDA] for most adults).
- Excellent source of Vitamin A, considered important for vision, immunity and growth/healing. One serving of asparagus provides 906 IU of vitamin A (30% RDA for most adults).
- Excellent source of Vitamin K, considered important for blood clotting and bone metabolism.
- A significant source of the antioxidants, gluthathione and rutin. Guelph Millennium, the variety of asparagus grown by Canadian growers, has higher rutin levels than other commercial varieties of asparagus.
A healthy diet rich in a variety of vegetables and fruitmay help reduce the risk of heart disease, and may help reduce the risk of some types of cancer.
There are so many ways to enjoy asparagus – steam, boil, microwave, grill, oven roast, or stir-fry. Add to baked goods, soups and stews too. All you have to do is wash your asparagus, remove the woody ends, and you’re ready to go.
We advise that you do not overcook it. Enjoy the crisp bite.
How to Boil: Bring water to boil. Carefully add asparagus to pan and continue to boil uncovered for 5 to 7 minutes. Drain well.
How to Microwave: Place 1 lb. washed asparagus spears in a microwave-safe dish. Add 2 tbsp. water and cover. Cook at HIGH for 4 to 6 minutes, rearranging spears once so bottom spears are moved to top until tender crisp. Keep covered until ready to serve.
How to Steam: Lay asparagus in a steamer basket and place over boiling water in a saucepan. Cover and steam for 5 to 7 minutes, until asparagus is tender-crisp.
How to Stir-fry: Cut asparagus into 1-inch pieces and cook in skillet or wok, using 1 to 2 tbsp. of butter or oil, for 5 to 7 minutes.
How to Roast: Arrange 1 or 2 lbs. of asparagus spears in a single layer in a large shallow baking dish. Drizzle with 1 to 2 tbsp. vegetable oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake, uncovered, at 425 °F (218 °C) for 10 to 15 minutes, or until tender, but slightly firm to the bite. To replicate the same method on the BBQ, use a piece of aluminum foil to cover the grates.
How to BBQ/Grill: Coat with oil of choice and salt. Brush grill lightly with oil. Over high heat, grill for 2-4 minutes until lightly charred and fork tender.
Cooking Tip! Remove asparagus from heat just before you think it’s done. The residual cooking heat will continue cooking them for 30 – 60 seconds longer.
Make the season last longer and freeze your local asparagus. It will maintain the taste and nutrition but the texture will be soft so once defrosted is best used in recipes like soup. Wash thoroughly and trim stem ends slightly. Leave spears whole or cut into 2-inch lengths. Blanch in boiling water for 1 to 2 minutes. Then, plunge immediately in ice water to halt the cooking process. Drain well and pack in plastic freezer bags or containers leaving no excess air space. Seal, label and freeze at 0°F / -18°C. Use within eight months for best quality.
After eating asparagus, some people experience “stinky pee”. The strong odor is a result of sulfurous amino acids in the asparagus that are released during digestion. But only about one-quarter of the population appears to have the special gene that allows them to smell those compounds. So, the issue isn’t whether your pee is smelly – it’s whether you’re able to smell it!
The Asparagus Farmers of Ontario (AFO) is the province’s oldest non-profit marketing board, with approximately 90 growers and over 4,000 acres of asparagus producing a crop with a farm gate value of $25-30 million. They have a strong commitment towards a “grower first” philosophy. Ontario grows 3/4 of Canada’s asparagus.
No, there is also white and purple asparagus.
Green asparagus is the most popular option in Ontario. Over 90% of asparagus grown in Canada is a variety called Guelph Millennium, developed at the University of Guelph. It is adapted to colder climates, produces higher yields than other varieties, and is long lived. It is in season from mid-May to early July each year. From early July, farms do not harvest the spears but allow them to grow into tall ferns. These ferns are tended to until the cold of fall because they recharge the plant for the following season. Asparagus plants that are well managed can be harvested for 20+ years!
White asparagus is a niche product in North America. It is white because of how it is grown and harvested. Rather than let the spear grow out of the ground for harvest, the earth is mounded high over the plant. This prevents the spears from producing chlorophyll, the naturally occurring chemical that turns the vegetable green.
Purple asparagus is a relatively new variety, and a small amount is grown in Ontario. When overcooked, the purple colour will dissipate leaving the asparagus green again. Some describe the taste as slightly sweeter, or nuttier than green varieties of asparagus although others do not notice a difference from green varieties.