Thick or thin? What’s the best asparagus for your table?

May is Michigan Asparagus Month but opinions vary about whether thin or thick asparagus is the best for your table. What you should know about this culinary conundrum.

Asparagus thick vs. thinThe season for Michigan asparagus usually begins in May and many asparagus lovers will have green stalks on their table as many times as they can but should those stalks be thick or thin? Opinions vary.

If aesthetics is your thing then thinner might be the way to go. Restaurant chefs largely prefer thinner stalks for many reasons including its aesthetic quality and because it cooks more quickly.

Photo at right: Asparagus from McGeathy Farms, Hemlock, Mich. Photo by Julia Darnton.

New York Times columnist and author Mark Bittman writes that he prefers the thin stalks of asparagus but acknowledges that any asparagus is as simple to prepare as it is delicious to eat. Contrary to what you might hear, the thinner stalks are more firm than thicker stalks when cooked. The fibers of the stalk are more tightly packed together. 

The Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board, meanwhile, says that thicker stalks are of higher quality. Thicker stalks are usually higher in fiber, according to Peter Ferretti, professor of vegetable crops at Pennsylvania State University

But whether thick or thin, asparagus stalks of all sizes are nutritious and delicious. Asparagus is high in folic acid and is a good source of potassium, vitamins B6, A, and C.

Some recipes and cookbooks suggest that you would need to trim the ends or peel the stalks of the asparagus but that is a matter of preference. Thicker stalks are quite tender when grilled, broiled, sautéed or blanched. Many asparagus recipes concentrate on simple preparation with minimal seasoning but asparagus is a good ingredient in Asian stir-fry, egg dishes, pasta dishes and many more.

No matter the size, you will want to look for asparagus that smells fresh with tight dry tips at the end of the stalk. To take the best advantage of Michigan’s asparagus season, you can learn about preservation and storage from Michigan State University Extension and its Michigan Fresh Asparagus Fact Sheet.

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