Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis)
is one of the world’s top 20 vegetable crops. Both green and white shoots (spears) are produced; the latter being harvested before becoming exposed to light. The crop is grown in nearly all areas of the world, with the largest production regions being China, Western Europe, North America and Peru. Successful production demands high farmer input and specific environmental conditions and cultivation practices. Asparagus
materials have also been used for centuries as herbal medicine. Despite this widespread cultivation and consumption, we still know relatively little about the biochemistry of this crop and how this relates to the nutritional, flavour, and neutra-pharmaceutical properties of the materials used. To date, no-one has directly compared the contrasting compositions of the green and white crops. In this short review, we have summarised most of the literature to illustrate the chemical richness of the crop and how this might relate to key quality parameters. Asparagus has excellent nutritional properties and its flavour/fragrance is attributed to a set of volatile components including pyrazines and sulphur-containing compounds. More detailed research, however, is needed and we propose that (untargeted) metabolomics should have a more prominent role to play in these investigations.
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