Why Europe goes crazy for the sun-deprived veal of the vegetable world.
White asparagus isn’t a big seller in the U.S., but in France and Germany, the first white spears of spring are a bigger deal than a bushel of ramps at a New England farmers market. White asparagus is simply a regular stalk that, like those subterranean killer mole people in The Descent, who never sees sunlight, and thus never devotes biochemical resources to producing chlorophyll, the photosynthesizing compound that absorbs sunlight and turns vegetables green.
This underground or shaded growth is more expensive than conventional agriculture, which explains the higher price and luxury food status. Compared to green asparagus, these pale stubbies are especially tender and sweet, kind of the veal of the vegetable world. In Europe they’re typically blanched and served naked, to best highlight their subtle flavor, or with a seductive sidecar of hollandaise.