Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Asparagus is the name of a vegetable obtained from one species within the genus Asparagus, specifically the young shoots of Asparagus officinalis. It has been used from very early times as a culinary vegetable, owing to its delicate flavour and diuretic properties. There is a recipe for cooking asparagus in the oldest surviving book of recipes, Apicius's 3rd century CE De re coquinaria, Book III.
In their simplest form, the shoots are boiled or steamed until tender and served with a light sauce like hollandaise or melted butter or a drizzle of olive oil with a dusting of Parmesan cheese. A refinement is to tie the shoots into sheaves and stand them so that the lower part of the stalks are boiled, while the more tender heads are steamed. Tall cylindrical asparagus cooking pots have liners with handles and perforated bases to make this process foolproof.
Unlike most vegetables, where the smaller and thinner are the more tender, thick asparagus stalks have more tender volume to the proportion of skin. When asparagus have been too long in the market, the cut ends will have dried and gone slightly concave. The best asparagus are picked and washed while the water comes to the boil. Fastidious cooks scrape asparagus stalks with a vegetable peeler, stroking away from the head, and refresh them in ice-cold water before steaming them. Small or full-sized stalks can be made into asparagus soup. Cantonese restaurants in the United States often serve asparagus stir-fried with chicken, shrimp, or beef. Asparagus is one of few foods which is acceptable to eat with the hands, although this is more common in Europe.
Another thing worth mentioning with asparagus is that some of its constituents are metabolised and excreted in the urine, giving it a distinctive, mildly unpleasant odour. The smell is caused by various sulfur-containing degradation products (e.g. mercaptans and thioesters). As a result of studies it was not only shown that only around 40% of the test persons displayed this characteristic smell, but also that not everyone is able to smell the odour once it is produced. 
Asparagus as a vegetable is widely grown around villages near Evesham in the Vale of Evesham in Worcestershire, England, and the plant grows wild on England's south coast. Indeed in Evesham it is still known by some by its original local name of Sparrow Grass.
- Asparagus information from the Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board
The shoots of a related plant, Ornithogalum pyrenaicum, called Prussian asparagus, have been used for similar purposes as genuine asparagus.
Many unrelated plants are called "asparagus" or "used as asparagus" when their shoots are used in a similar way.
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