The varieties of Asparagus

We distinguish some varieties of asparagus traded on the world fruit and vegetable market, all belonging to the species Asparagus officinalis: they differ mainly in appearance, taste and type of cultivation; the chemical composition of these different varieties of asparagus, however, is roughly the same.
Among the varieties for the production and trading of asparagus can be listed:

  • ASPARAGUS WITH A PINK TIP FROM MEZZAGO (ITALY): it is a "De.C.O." (Denominazione Comunale di Origine- Municipal denomination of origin) variety of asparagus , which acquires its characteristic taste just growing in the agricultural area of Mezzago (town in the province of Monza - Brianza in Lombardy - Italy). It is divided, according to the diameter of the shoots, in three categories: extra, first, second. This variety of asparagus is harvested by hand in April-May, when the tip leaves the ground and turns pink in the sun. Its refined, intense and gently pleasing taste makes it suitable for tasty recipes.
  • WHITE ASPARAGUS: very well known and expensive variety of asparagus, whose special feature is that the shoots have no colour. This characteristic comes from the particular method of cultivation and processing of the plant of asparagus, harvested when it still lies under the mound of earth with which farmers covered the asparagus at the beginning of spring, leaving them in a state of absence of light. In this way the photosynthesis of the plant of asparagus is blocked, and, for this reason, the shoots appear white instead of green. This technique allows the white asparaus to maintain the delicate flavour that sets it apart from the other varieties.

Among the species of white asparagus on the fruit and vegetable market, the most important are:

  • WHITE ASPARAGUS OF CIMADOLMO P.G.I.: it is an Italian fruit and vegetable product with the Protected Geographical Indication. It is a typical product, known since the beginning of the first century, for its diuretic and food qualities. There is trace of the asparagus of Cimadolmo (Treviso, Italy) in the seventeenth-century text "Cento e dieci ricordi che formano il buon fattor di villa" (A hundred and ten memories that make the good steward of the house).
  • ASPARAGUS OF BASSANO DEL GRAPPA P.G.I.: Variety of white asparagus cultivated in Italy in the municipalities of Bassano del Grappa (Vicenza) and in the neighboring towns. This variety of white asparagus has its own regulation that indicates its main features, such as the mean diameter, which must ba a minimum of 10 mm, with a length within the minimum of 18 and maximum values of 18 and 22 cm. These white asparagus are traded in homogeneous bundles of weight varying from 1 to 1.5 kg. It is also allowed the presence of transverse cracks in some of the shoots, element of value and identification of the Bassano product, because of its fragility. Asparagus from Bassano del Grappa (Vicenza) have a distinctive bitter-sweet taste, which makes them very special. They are harvested by hand, cutting the base with a special knife, then they are cooled in water and sold in bunches tied together manually with a willow sucker, called "astroppa".
  • WHITE ASPARAGUS OF BADOERE: Italian variety of white asparagus typical of Veneto, grown in an area between the rivers Sile and Dese (provinces of Treviso, Padova and Venice - Italy). This variety of asparagus has also been awarded with the P.G.I. recognition by the European Union in 2010. Of this type of asparagus there are two varieties: the "white" (varieties "Dariana", "Thielim", "Zeno", "Valim" and "Grolim") and the "green" (varieties "Eros", "Thielim", "Grolim", "Dariana" and "Avalim"). Shoots, well formed, straigth and never empty, are characterized by a pinkish-white or green-intense colour and a sweet and aromatic flavour.
  • JUNON ASPARAGUS: Variety of white asparagus named after Juno, the goddess with the white arms;
  • COLUMBIAN MAMMOTH WHITE ASPARAGUS:Variety of white asparagus very robust and vigorous, with a high sprouting.
  • CONOVER COLOSSA ASPARAGUS:Old and succesful variety of white asparagus; It is a reliable variety of asparagus adaptable to any climate. It is very fast at growing and of a fine quality.
  • ASPARAGUS OF NAVARRE: Variety of white asparagus of Spanish origin, which was awarded with the Denomination of Origin;It is a variety of asparagus of an excellent quality, with fleshy stems and a white colour (which indicates that they stayed under the ground and the total lack of exposure to sunlight), a delicate texture, with little or no fibrous and a perfect balance between delicacy and bitter in taste.
  • GREEN ASPARAGUS: Variety of asparagus more traditional, regularly cultivated, so that the shoots have the chance to grow and to take, thanks to the sunlight and the photosythesis, the characteristic green hue that distinguishes all the plants exposed to the light of sun. The green asparagus, compared to other varieties of asparagus produced and traded, has a more decisive and intense flavour.

Among the species of green asparagus on the market, the most important in the fruit and vegetable sector are:

  • ASPARAGUS D'ARGENTEUIL: Californian hybrid variety of green asparagus (Royal Sluis). It is a early variety, suitable to the climate zones of central and southern Italy, also prone to aridity. This variety of asparagus has a good productivity per hectare, produces regular shoots with a light-green colour; this variety is also called "All green" or "all-to eat-"; It is a variety produced primarily for the fresh market and for the industry.
  • MARY WASHINGTON ASPARAGUS: American variety of green asparagus which grows out of the ground and has a more pronounced and sweet flavour.
  • ASPARAGUS DARBONNE SELECTION N.3: Italian variety of green asparagus, which can be grown also in white variety, modifying the harvesting method.
  • ASPARAGUS OF ALTEDO (ITALY): The asparagus of Altedo, typical from the areas of Bologna and Ferrara (Emilia- Romagna, Italy), with its beautiful green colour, has recently obtained (2003) the P.G.I. recognition.; it is a variety of asparagus with well formed shoots a tight apex sometimes slightly curved. These asparagus are delicated, tender and free from fibrous. The harvesting starts in April and lasts until the 20th of June.
  • EROS ASPARAGUS: An Italian variety of asparagus that has a high productivity level and is quite precocious. This variety of asparagus is green with purple shades. It is a precocious hybrid of Californian origins, very productive and tolerant to rust. Its shoots have a good shape, large caliber, and a good anthocyanin coloration. It is recommentded for the production of green asparagus for the fresh fruit and vegetable market, grown both in open field and through forced cultivation in tunnels.
  • ASPARAGUS ERCOLE Variety of asparagus of Italian origins, that presents a high productivity level and is quite precoucious. This variety of asparagus has a bright green colour and is large in size, with bracts adherent to the tip and resistant to the pre-flowering; this variety is suitable for the production of white asparagus and for the production of green asparagus
  • DARIANA ASPARAGUS: Variety of asparagus of French origins, which is becoming a hybrid of reference in the production of green asparagus. It is a medium precocious hybrid, with excellent suitability for the productions of white and green asparagus and an excellent trading performance.
  • MINERVA ASPARAGUS: Variety of asparagus with bright green shoots, which is named after the Goddess Minerva.
  • LARAC ASPARAGUS: Variety of asparagus of French origins, with a good production level and a good adaptability to the soil.
  • ASPARAGUS OF TIVOLI: Variety of asparagus of Italian origins;
  • PURPLE ASPARAGUS: Variety of asparagus particularly valuable and less productive than others, but unique in the world; the shoots are more thick and have a characteristic deep purple colour that gradually fades down to the base, result of the first exposure of the shoots to the sun. The flavour of this variety of asparagus is wonderful, tender and buttery, non-fibrous, delicate: it usually has a more sweet taste and a less aggressive flavour. Unfortunately, the low performance of the purple aasparagus, the late maturity, the complete manual method of cultivation and the impossibility to rotate the asparagus with other cultivations, caused a drastic reduction in acreage and the confinement of the purple asparagus mainly for local Italian consumption.

There are very few species of purple asparagus grown in the world with fruitful results, among which there are:

  • PURPLE ASPARAGUS OF ALBENGA, town in the province of Savona in Italy. It is a historical Ligurian variety, in which the colour is determined by characteristics of the particular variety and not by the cultivation method. It is a variety of asparagus of medium-late maturity, with low productivity per hectare; this variety of asparagus produces purple shoots large sized, good in length and with well-closed tips.
    Currently, it is cultivated for productions of niche, as it possesses very high organoleptic characteristics.

In past times there were different types of purple asparagus in the Piana di Albenga (Italy), but many have been lost because of the reduction of the production of this type of asparagus by farmers. The variation of the purple asparagus was born in 1600, but, even if unique in the world, this production of asparagus has not yet received the Protected Geographical Indication. Currently the production of this asparagus is around 160 tonnes. The purple variety of asparagus became popular in the Nineties, when it was served at the table of Queen Elizabeth of England.

Of the numerous species of asparagus, many grow wild in the woods: they are the so-called wild asparagus, which differ from the other varieties of asparagus cultivated, in the diameter of the stem and for their taste that is more penetrating. They are rarely included in the fruit and vegetable trade.
Among the species of wild asparagus there are:

  • ASPARAGUS TENUIFOLIUS, sometimes collected for food;
  • ASPARAGUS PLUMOSUS, used for ornamental purposes, is commonly called asparagine, has feathery,very lightweighted, bright green fronds, used to decorate flower bouquets;
  • ASPARAGUS SPRENGERI, which has a rather light and falling gait and is used to adorne balustrades.
  • ASPARAGUS MOTINA (wild) Recent variety of asparagus derived from Asparagus scaber, selected in Italy by ISPORT. It is a variety with enough productivity per hectare, which produces medium-small shoots, far superior to the common wild asparagus. It adapts well to dry and coastal areas, where salinity usually do not recommend the cultivation of green asparagus. Currently it is cultivated for valuable production, as it has excellent organoleptic and nutritional characteristics.

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