If we want to find the origins of asparagus, we may have to turn to Asia, probably Mesopotamia, where they were consumed by peasants. Later, they traveled to Egypt and spread throughout the Mediterranean world. When they came to Greece, its inhabitants called them asparagos, which in Greek means “full of sap.” And during the Roman Empire, they were served at the banquets of the Caesars, as recorded in the writings of the great historian Pliny.
Asparagus is a plant of the lily family and its soft stems are the edible part. They grow in many countries, such as Peru, Germany, China, and Italy, but the gastronomic experts agree that the lands of Navarre, in Spain produce the best kind.
The Navarre white asparagus is a variety of Spanish origin which is defined by its high quality, fame, and also a very high price. Perhaps its exceptional character is due to the microclimate of the area and the properties of the land. Its whitish color is achieved by depriving the plant of light during cultivation, and harvesting it when it is still underground. Thus, the photosynthesis that gives plants their usual green color does not occur, giving rise to a kind of delicate, fleshy, tasty and more tender asparagus without fibers and with a soft but firm consistency.
The white asparagus of Navarre has its own Protected Geographical Indication (PGI). They are handpicked, and only the best are offered for sale. Before packaging, they are cooked in water and salt in glass or metal containers.
The quality varies according to the length and thickness of the specimens. The best are the ones that reach between 17 and 22 centimeters and a diameter of 12 mm or more. From a nutritional standpoint, the asparagus of Navarre are virtually free of fat and carbohydrates, have a high percentage of protein and are perfect for diets, as they provide minerals and vitamins A and C, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, and especially alpha-tocopherol, one of the most important natural antioxidants.
They are ideal for all kind of salads, especially those containing seafood and cheese. But they are also delicious with a vinaigrette or a fresh mayonnaise made with extra virgin olive oil.
Although there are several firms in Navarre that stand out for their quality, I would recommend three that have helped to make white asparagus a food of exceptional virtues. The brand “La Catedral de Navarra” for example, cultivates its asparagus very close to its facilities in Mendavia, and they are special because they are blanched before being peeled, so their skin protects their properties and aromas.
Equally excellent are the asparagus produced by “Conservas Artesanales Rosara” in Andosilla, as well as the ones that have been grown, cooked and packaged by the firm “The Navarrico” in San Adrian since 1960. ■