History of Asparagus
Asparagus is a perennial plant that is native to the eastern Mediterranean and Asia Minor areas. The name “asparagus” comes from the Greek language meaning “sprout” or “shoot” and it is a member of the lily family as are onions, garlic, leeks, turnips and gladioli. The ancient Greeks loved wild asparagus but it was the Romans who first cultivated it.
Widely cultivated for its tender, succulent, edible shoots, asparagus cultivation began more than 2,000 years ago in the eastern Mediterranean region. Greeks and Romans prized asparagus for its unique flavor, texture and alleged medicinal qualities. They ate it fresh when in season and dried the vegetable for use in winter.
In the 16th Century, asparagus gained popularity in France and England. From there, the early colonists brought it to America. Asparagus is often called the “Food of Kings.” King Louis XIV of France was so fond of this delicacy that he ordered special greenhouses built so he could enjoy asparagus all year-round.
The Emperor Augustus coined the phrase ‘velocius quam asparagi conquantur’, meaning to do something faster than you can cook asparagus. Julius Caesar first ate it in Lombardy and wanted it served with melted butter.
The asparagus growing beds in Northern Italy were famous during the Renaissance period. These graceful spears of the asparagus plant have always been a sign of elegance and in the past asparagus was deemed a delicacy only the wealthy could afford. Roman emperors were so fond of asparagus, that they kept a special asparagus fleet for the purpose of fetching it.
Today asparagus remains loved for its versatility, unique herbaceous flavour, distinctive shape and health giving properties and food lovers around the world - from Europe (where white asparagus is ‘king’) to North America, Asia and Australia - feast on asparagus when in season.