Earliest records of asparagus cultivation trace it back to Greece some 2,500 years ago. The Greeks believed that asparagus possessed medicinal properties and recommended it as a cure for toothaches. It was highly prized by the Romans who grew it in high-walled courtyards. Asparagus has been grown in England since the sixteenth century and during the nineteenth century it caught on in North America and China.
A member of the lily family, Asparagus officinalis is the edible variety of the asparagus family. Unusually the plant has virtually no leaves; the stems are examples of phylloclades (photosynthetic branches).
White asparagus is popular in much of Europe and is produced by keeping the growing shoots hidden from light under soil. The less tender but more fully flavored green variety predominates in the USA, Canada and England.
Asparagus contains more folic acid than any other vegetable. It also a source of fiber, potassium, vitamins A and C and glutathione, a phytochemical with antioxidant and anticarcinogenic properties.
Early in the twentieth century, Professor Ikeda of Tokyo Imperial University wrote that "There is a taste which is common to asparagus, tomatoes, cheese and meat but which is not one of the four well-known tastes of sweet, sour, bitter and salty." He went on to identify that this distinctive taste originates from glutamic acid (or glutamate) and he named the taste umami. The existence of this 'fifth taste' has only recently gained acceptance in the West, where awareness of it is now increasing.
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