Chefs explain: What’s the hype over white asparagus?
Spring is always an exciting season in gastronomy.
Winter produce, after all, finds itself a stronger continuation of the chilly autumnal harvests that continue to grow, but spring? It is a prismatic vegetable garden bursting into bloom, a season of colours that signal new life and lengthier sunshine-filled days.
Yet, alongside the hearty rows of vibrant spring vegetables sits the white asparagus: thick, spindly fingers that almost harken back to the spookier Halloween season.
The average consumer in Singapore may seem baffled at the produce. For the uninitiated, the white asparagus appears faddish, a genetically modified vegetable that’s just of a different colour to its green sibling. The prices at local grocers such as Cold Storage, don’t reflect the differences either: the white Peruvian variety sees itself going for S$2.25 per 100 gram, while the regular green asparagus is retailing at S$3.30 per 100 gram.
White asparagus is to green asparagus is as veal is to beef. Restauranteurs who know where to look for quality produce understand how valued these long, conical vegetables can be, especially in terms of price. According to Chef/Partner Simone Fraternali of Solo Ristorante, “(the white asparagus can) cost up to four times as much. So for example, the green asparagus might go for S$10 per kilogram, while the white asparagus can be up to $40 per kilogram.”
“I personally prefer the white asparagus from France and Germany. Of course, Italy has wonderful white asparagus as well, but it is difficult to get them here in Singapore,” chef Simone continues.
Besides resulting in a tender, sweeter taste than its green cousin, the biggest difference in its price lies in the earliest part of the harvest: the growing process.
As the tip of each stalk sticks itself out of the ground, farmers have to cover it with mesh and straw on top to keep the light out. The idea behind this is simple science: the asparagus stalks aren’t given a chance to turn green due to the prevention of photosynthesis. It’s a painstaking, laborious process — young shoots that emerge in early spring can grow up seven inches in a day, so farmers have to continuously cover the stalks with straw or tarp as it grows.