Asparagus: All about Switzerland’s most beloved vegetable
Spargelzeit is here, and that means just one thing: asparagus is everywhere in Switzerland! From creamy soups to luxurious pizzas, you’re likely to find lots of green and white spears when you’re out and about in the alpine nation between April and June, known locally as Spargelsaison!
Asparagus: Switzerland’s spring-time treat
Asparagus has been a favourite in Switzerland for a long time, and whether it's green or white it's a true love of the Swiss during springtime! The plant has long been considered a luxury since it takes a long time to grow, so it’s understandable that so many people get excited when it’s finally time to harvest.
Asparagus season (Spargelzeit / Spargelsaison) in Switzerland
Spargelzeit, Spargelsaison, or asparagus season, usually starts in April in Switzerland and continues until mid-June. During this time, the whole country goes Spargel-crazy, as asparagus pops up in supermarkets across Switzerland, restaurants put on special dishes, and many events and festivals take place to celebrate the asparagus harvest.
Neighbouring countries such as Germany and the Netherlands take part in the season with equal gusto as well.
All about the asparagus plant
The asparagus plant (Asparagus officinalis), is native to the western coast of Europe and is known to thrive in maritime locations. This means that the plant enjoys soil with a more saline quality than many other vegetables.
The plant was long thought to be part of the lily family, like onions and garlic, but more up-to-date research suggests the plant is its own family. Just one of the five asparagus species is actually edible for humans, but there are many varieties of asparagus within that one species.
The edible asparagus plant is known by its scientific name Asparagus officinalis. The most popular types are green and white asparagus, but there is also purple asparagus, which has a higher sugar content and low fibre levels. Despite being less sweet, white and green asparagus remain the two spears of choice in Switzerland.
Asparagus plumosus, asparagus setaceus and asparagus densiflorus
There are some other, non-edible plants in the asparagus family as well. The most well-known asparagus fern plant is the Asparagus setaceus, also known as the Asparagus plumosus, plumosa, Asparagus densiflorus, lace fern, or common asparagus fern.
Though these plants aren’t edible, they are related to our beloved asparagus plants. The word “plumosis” refers to the plume-like foliage of the plant, while setaceus means “hairy”, referencing the appearance of the plant’s leaves.
White asparagus or green asparagus?
The most popular variety of asparagus in Europe is white asparagus. In order to cultivate white asparagus, soil is piled around the shoots as they grow. This means that the plants don’t photosynthesise, allowing them to retain their white colour and remain tender. The shoots are harvested as soon as they break through the piled-up soil, meaning that the harvest can be a labour-intensive process where farmers need to check the soil every day for new shoots.
Green asparagus - which is allowed to photosynthesise - is less tender than white asparagus and is also a little more bitter, which is probably what makes the white variety more popular.
How asparagus grows
Asparagus grows from seeds, but it takes five years to be able to grow a harvestable asparagus plant. If you want to grow an asparagus plant more quickly, you can buy bare-root asparagus crowns. You can easily find helpful guides online that can tell you the best options for growing your own asparagus, depending on your region, soil type and time preferences.
Asparagus health benefits
Asparagus spears are packed full of vitamins and minerals and provide a good source of fibre. Asparagus is known to contain vitamin A, C and folic acid.
Vitamin A is important for normal vision, the immune system, reproduction, growth and development, while vitamin C can strengthen the immune system, and help maintain healthy skin, blood vessels, bone and cartilage. Folic acid, also known as vitamin B9, helps the body produce healthy red blood cells and can prevent birth defects in unborn children.
White asparagus recipes: How to cook white asparagus
Since white asparagus is known to be a favourite amongst people from Switzerland, asparagus season brings with it a number of popular asparagus dishes that are served on many restaurants' springtime menus!
Creamy asparagus soup (Spargelcremesuppe) is the ultimate spring comfort food during those drizzly days in April and May. This great video shows how you can make your very own delicious asparagus soup at home.
Video: YouTube / My Life In Germany
For a luxurious risotto, you can add white asparagus for a delicious creamy flavour. This dish is often served with a hard cheese such as Parmesan or a softer cheese like taleggio. This video shows just one great way to cook a delicious white asparagus risotto.
Video: YouTube / Nicola Lancerin
Last, but certainly not least, is the classic asparagus quiche. Many people choose to make asparagus quiche with green asparagus, but if you’re fancying something super Swiss, you can simply swap the green asparagus for some peeled white asparagus!
Video: YouTube / Natasha’s Kitchen
Try some Swiss asparagus
Now you know the best ways to cook your asparagus, it’s time to head out to your local market and grab some delicious white or green spears before the season is over! Happy Spargelzeit!