What Is White Asparagus?

hsvrs/iStock via Getty Images

Spring is asparagus season, and an unusual variety of the vegetable becomes easier to find this time of year. While perusing the farmers market, you may spot pale, ivory-colored asparagus stalks alongside the familiar green kind. Though they vary in taste and appearance, white asparagus and green asparagus are the same plant species in different stages of its life cycle.

According to Taste of Home, white asparagus is simply asparagus that hasn't been exposed to sunlight. When the young crop grows beneath the dirt, it's colorless. It's only after the stalks poke through the surface and receive their first taste of sunlight that their chlorophyll production kicks in, giving them their distinctive green shade.

Farmers can keep asparagus white forever by denying them sunlight. The white asparagus that's sold to consumers has either been grown in a dark environment or harvested before it could break through the soil. Green asparagus, on the other hand, has been exposed to the elements above ground.

Now that you know how white asparagus is cultivated, the question that remains is why. Once you've peeled off the woody outer layer, the paler variety is more tender than the classic version, and it has a sweeter, milder taste that's comparable to turnips or peas. These qualities make it a delicacy among some vegetable connoisseurs. Germans are especially fond of white asparagus—or spargle, as they call it—and the European country celebrates the arrival of the crop with sparglefests throughout spring.

If you love asparagus but don't love the way it makes your pee smell, you may hope to find a scent-free alternative in the white kind. Unfortunately, this strange side effect is one thing both varieties have in common. Asparagus of all shades contains asparagusic acid, which breaks down into sulfur-containing compounds in our digestive tracts. When (or if) you smell the urine of someone who had asparagus for dinner, the sulfur is really what you're picking up on. Just hope that you're part of the 20 to 40 percent of people who can't detect the odor if you ever have to use the bathroom at a sparglefest.

[h/t Taste of Home]

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.