Fresh asparagus appearing at farmer’s markets through May and June signals spring. Enjoy them fresh while they last, but also ferment a few bundles to enjoy well after spring. Fermented asparagus won’t taste the same as fresh; it will be better.
Fermentation transforms asparagus. Spices, herbs, and other ingredients infuse each asparagus stalk will flavour. Additionally, acids produced by lactic acid bacteria will give the stalks a slight bite.
Fermented asparagus stalk should be crisp. You can guarantee this texture by selecting medium to thick stalks as opposed to thin stalks from young plants. While thin, tender stalks are better for eating raw, steaming, and sautéing, thin fermented asparagus often turn limp.
In addition to avoiding young stalks, avoid old stalks. These are often fibrous and woody, which won’t lessen with fermentation. Old stalks will not go limp as young, thin stalks do with fermentation, but the fibrous texture is unpleasant to eat.
So when you are purchasing asparagus, sort through the asparagus bundles and choose the bundle that has medium to thick stalks. Use bundles of thinner stalks for eating raw or cooking over the next couple days.
NOTE: Horseradish, raspberries, or oak leaves contain tannins. Soft flesh vegetables such as zucchini and cucumbers often require tannins to preserve crispness. You could try adding tannin-rich leaves to a fermentation jar packed with thinner asparagus stalks. I can’t guarantee it will improve crispiness, but it’s worth a try. I’m testing it later this week and will share my findings.
How to use fermented asparagus
My favourite way to serve fermented asparagus is on a chucuterie board or on a crudité platter. However, don’t return any plated asparagus to the jar. It may cause the whole batch to spoil. Trust me – I know through experience
You can use fermented asparagus as you would pickled asparagus. Here are some ideas:
- chop and mix into potato salads
- garnish devilled eggs with asparagus tips
- add to eggs salad sandwich filling
- add brine in a Bloody Mary; garnish with an asparagus stalk
- lay crosswise in sandwiches
- substitute for capers in a lox sandwich
- add as a pizza topping after baking (to preserve microbes)
Why fermented asparagus vs. pickled asparagus?
Pickling asparagus is the more common way to preserve asparagus. Pickling and fermenting asparagus share some similarities, but don’t kid yourself – pickled asparagus (as in canned asparagus) is not the same as fermented.
Pickled asparagus retains natural prebiotics (food for gut microbes) as do fermented asparagus. Pickled asparagus even have a slightly acidic, sour taste as do fermented asparagus.
The main differences between fermented and pickled asparagus are viable microbes, use of heat, and acids.
Fermented asparagus is teaming with lactic acid bacteria (LAB), microbes that produce health benefits via the gut. These LABs produce lactic acid, acetic acid (vinegar), and smaller amounts of other acids. Moreover, processing in boiling water is not required because salt, acidity, absence of oxygen, and cool storage temperatures naturally preserve asparagus. The absence of heat additionally retains more heat-sensitive nutrients.
In contrast, pickled asparagus do not have microbes. Actually, heat is a main player in preserving pickled asparagus. After pouring a hot mixture of salt, water, sugar, and vinegar over the stalks, the cans are put in boiling water to process and seal. This intentionally kills good and bad microbes for preservation. Unfortunately, this heat diminishes nutrients. Also note the added vinegar. This gives the sour, acidic taste to pickled asparagus.
Another difference between fermented and pickled asparagus is storage temperature. Fermented asparagus requires storage below 13°C (i.e. in a cold room or refrigerator) before opening; whereas, pickled asparagus can be at found on grocery store shelves at room temperature. After opening, pickled and fermented asparagus require refrigeration.
If you are wanting maximum nutrition with added microbes for better gut health, choose fermented asparagus over pickled. For instructions, continue reading.
How to ferment asparagus
Fermenting asparagus is super easy as you’ll see in the recipe below. Following the photo gallery below from top to bottom, left to right, and see the detailed recipe underneath the photos.
- Gather your ingredients: fresh asparagus, garlic clover, oregano, mustard seeds, red crushed pepper. Aim for fresh and local asparagus for maximum nutrition.
- Separate thin asparagus spears from medium to thick spears. Only use medium to thick spears to ferment.
- As a reference, the photo with three pairs of asparagus from top to bottom are: thick, medium, and thin asparagus spears.
- Size asparagus against the jar. Ensure the spears are no longer than the shoulder of the jar.
- For a 1L Airlock Fermenter, spears should be around 4 inches. For a 1.5L Airlock Fermenter, the spears should be around 6 inches.
- Trim all the spears to the measured length, using one as a guide.
- Peel garlic cloves. A garlic peeler/roller helps. Roll garlic in a garlic peeler to loosen the skins, and remove skins with minimal damage to the cloves.
- Put spices and garlic at the bottom of the jar.
- Pack asparagus and jalapeño into a jar. Clamp the airlock-adapted lid, and allow to ferment for 7 days.
Fermented Asparagus Recipe
- 1-litre Airlock Fermenter or 1 L Fido jar
- 3 small garlic cloves, peeled
- 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
- 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1 small jalapeno, halved and seeded
- 1 pound asparagus (there may be leftovers)
- 600 mL non-chlorinated water
- 12 grams unrefined sea salt
- Dissolve salt into warm water, making a brine. Set aside to cool.
- Wash a 1 L Airlock Fermenter with soap and water. Rinse well. Put the garlic, crushed pepper, mustard seeds, and oregano at the bottom of the jar. Set aside.
- Remove thin spears from the asparagus bundle, leaving only medium to thick spears to ferment. Ensure you have at least 400 grams of medium to thick speears to make this ferment in a 1 L Airlock Fermenter. Wash asparagus in cool water.
- Trim tough, woody ends of old spears, if needed.
- Stand one asparagus spear vertically against the side of a 1 L Airlock Fermenter. Mark where it measures in line with the shoulder of the jar, about 4 inches, then trim spear accordingly.
- Gather remaining medium to thick spears; line up the bunch by the tip. Align the tip of the trimmed spear with the tips of the bundled spears. Use the 4-inch trimmed spear as a guide to cut the remaining spears to the same length. Add these, tip down, to the jar. Do the same for the remaining section of asparagus spears. (Most asparagus spears are long enough for two 4-inch peices.)
- Wedge the jalapeno halves down the side of the jar. Continue packing spears until snug. Place a flat glass weight on top of the asparagus ends (optional, if packed snugly).
- Pour the room-temperature brine into the jar, covering the asparagus ends by 1 inch while leaving 1/2 inch of headspace.
- Insert an airlock filled with non-chlorinated water to the fill line; place in a dark area for 7 days at 18-22ºC. Asparagus are ready to eat, but can be stored for an additional 3 weeks in a fridge or cold room, <12ºC, to reduce histamine and enhance flavour. Once ready to eat, replace airlock with the plug and store in a fridge.