Seasonal food is a hot topic; should we only buy what’s available locally to reduce the environmental impact of transporting food around the world? Or should we buy whatever we want at any time of the year, something the big supermarkets are keen for us to do (they can charge more out of season!)? Then there’s the argument that purchasing beans from Kenya, for example, boosts the local economy and helps relieve poverty and raise living standards.
It’s a complex issue that can be debated for a long time. There are some foods that I really can’t manage without all year – apples and bananas for example, although once the stored UK apples have finished, I do try to buy apples from Europe that are transported by land rather than air. And then there are some foods that, although you can buy throughout the year, should only be eaten during their short local season. For me, that’s strawberries (British strawberries are just sublime!!) and asparagus.
There is something just wonderfully luxurious about fresh asparagus stalks; juicy and succulent, their strong pungent flavour bursts in your mouth, juices dripping down your chin, texture firm and crunchy (or that’s how I like them any way). So beautiful they need little adornment other than a light seasoning of salt and pepper; I used to love then coated in frothy butter, but that’s not possible on a dairy free diet (and sunflower spread just doesn’t do it!).
Traditionally, the UK asparagus season is only 8 weeks long, from the end of April through to the end of June; it may last a little longer this year due to the cold spring. So now is the time to go grab your bunches of asparagus and indulge in some delectable dining. And your body will love you for it to, because each spear is packed with powerful nutrients. Asparagus is a fabulous source of folic acid, vitamin K, fibre, vitamin B6, thiamin, vitamin A and C. It also contains some interesting phytonutrients which work some amazing tricks inside the body!
Asparagus contains saponins and flavonoids as well as other anti-oxidants which have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. Research shows that saponins can help relieve some chronic degenerative neurological conditions. The anti-oxidants, B vitamins and fibre can help improve heart health and reduce diabetes.
Asparagus also contains inulin, a carbohydrate that has a beneficially effect on the digestive system, or rather on the ‘friendly bacteria’ contained within. Much of our modern diet and way of living takes it’s toll on the delicate eco-system in our guts. The inulin in asparagus isn’t digested in the upper digestive tract, and provides a wonderful food source for the friendly bacteria lower down to feed on and grow, helping to heal a damaged gut lining and promote overall health. This is particularly relevant to people with food intolerance or allergies; re-establishing a colony of healthy bacteria is a good place to start the healing process.
Unfortunately for some, eating asparagus may bring many benefits, but there is one massive side effect – smelly wee! Apparently, the pungent post-asparagus wee smell is formed after the break down of asparagusic acid, a concentrated sulphur containing compound. Up to 50% of asparagus eaters suffer from this phenomena to a greater or lesser extent. It really bothers some people, but if you don’t mind, or don’t suffer from this slightly embarrassing condition, then munch on those glorious stems whilst the going is good – your body will love you for it, even if your nose doesn’t!