Why Is Asparagus So Expensive?

Published Categorized as Food
A photo of asparagus on a yellow backgroundRRRmmm22 /Depositphotos

Premium vegetable, premium price: Why a bunch of asparagus is so much more expensive compared to most other produce at the store.

Crisp, tender, and full of flavor, asparagus is one of the first vegetables to grow in the spring. Although you can find it stores year-round, asparagus is in season from the months of February through June, with the peak being in April and May.

The feathery stalk of sparrow grass, fresh asparagus is said to be full of goodness: It has high levels of vitamin K and vitamin B9, nutritionist Laura Flores tells LiveScience, and provides a variety of antioxidants for our bodies, including vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta-carotene.

It’s also incredibly expensive. A bunch of asparagus will set you back anywhere between $3 and $5, depending on the grocer and the time of year. For the same price, you can get 5 pounds of potatoes, a few pounds of carrots, and a dozen cans of cannellini beans.

Why the high price tag?

Asparagus is expensive because it comes from a capricious plant. Sparrow grass shoots grow at differing rates and are so delicate that they can only be harvested by hand.

Sparrow grass must be planted in fertile soil and in a sunny place where its stalks can soak up sunlight for at least 8 hours a day. Although this plant can tolerate partial shade, it absolutely thrives in the sun, where it also produces its highest yields.

According to the University of Minnesota, asparagus can be harvested 2 years after planting crowns (a “crown” is the root of a 1-2 year old plant) and 3 years after planting seeds. Properly planted and with the tender loving care it deserves, a single plant can live 15 to 20 years.

Green asparagus should be harvested early and fresh, when the spears are 5 to 10 inches long and about the thickness of a finger. Workers hold the spears with their hands and break them off gently or with the aid of a sharp knife. The spears are tied up in bunches and off to the supermarkets they go.

White asparagus gets its ghostly color from the way it is grown. The plant is covered with soil and the spears are harvested underground, which makes the harvest a lot more laborious and the price even higher.

Making the Most of Asparagus

Asparagus tastes best when sautéed with butter and olive oil in a hot skillet over medium heat, or roasted in a 375°F (190°C) oven on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper.

To bring out the flavor of the stalks, salt them before cooking. If you like your asparagus piquant, crack mixed peppercorns generously over the cooked spears right before serving. (Don’t add the pepper earlier as the high heat will cook off its aroma and flavor.)

Serve asparagus along with filling tubers such as baked russets or sweet potatoes and along with a hearty meat, whether it’s pan-seared steak, broiled pork chops, or rotisserie chicken.

Oh, an I nearly forgot: a crusty French baguette with a little butter on the side makes everything better.

Cheaper Alternatives to Asparagus

Asparagus is cheaper when frozen or canned than when it is fresh. Also, the frozen packages and sealed jars very often sell at a discount.

So, before you start looking for alternatives, check the frozen and canned sections of the supermarket to see if you can find something that fits your budget.

Baby leeks are a formidable alternative to asparagus for those who want to eat well without spending a lot of money. They contain a lot of natural sugar that caramelizes well when sautéed, braised, or roasted.

If you’re in the market for something slightly bitter, a plate of well-prepared Brussels sprouts can be just as delicious as one filled with asparagus. Halve the sprouts and sauté in a hot pan with avocado oil, bacon bits, and minced garlic.

Celery stalks, tall and crunchy, can be an excellent source of carbs and fiber if you do not want to spend a fortune buying asparagus. Although they have a fairly distinctive flavor, you can tone it down with potatoes and onions, especially when cooked in a soup.

When a cream soup is in the making, peas and broccoli can replace asparagus neatly and cheaply. Add milk, butter, or heavy cream to make your soup extra decadent. Just remember to turn the heat down to low beforehand; dairy has the tendency to curdle at high heat.

Why Does Asparagus Make Your Pee Smell?

The question you’ve always wanted to ask, and yet never had an opportunity to do so!

We’ve got you covered. And no, it ain’t just you. Many report that their pee smells… er, weird whenever they eat asparagus, no matter the recipe and the cooking method.

This phenomenon is so widespread that scientists, who have probably experienced it first-hand, have set out to study it. Fortunately, to satisfy our hunger for knowledge, they have managed to track down the culprit.

Asparagus has been found to contain asparagusic acid. For the lack of better words, asparagusic acid is an organosulfur that the body breaks down into smaller parts which contain sulfur. It then excretes that sulfur in urine.

Sulfur, as you’ve probably sensed by now, smells like rotten eggs. It is also found in Himalayan salt (which is why this pinkish salt is not everyone’s cup of tea) and in the tap water of many seaside resorts (the smell is especially pronounced when you shower on the beach).

By Jim Stonos

When Jim isn't in the kitchen, he is usually spending time with family and friends, and working with the HCW editorial team to answer the questions he used to ask himself back when he was learning the ropes of cooking.