Purple Asparagus Salad Science

Raw Purple Asparagus Salad

The first time I saw purple asparagus my jaw dropped. Partly as a reflex action. I mean, you see food this pretty and you open your mouth to take a bite, right?

So that’s exactly what I did. I snapped off a tip and I popped it into my mouth. Purple asparagus spears are so tender and sweet they can be eaten raw. I’ve got the science to prove it.

Purple asparagus gets its color from anthocyanins, the same antioxidants that are found in red cabbage, eggplant and blueberries. Anthocyanins are also what make these foods purple, or makes roses red and delphiniums blue. Purple asparagus has higher concentrations of sugar than green asparagus too. It contains less lignim (the stringy stuff found in asparagus skin) and also less saponin (which can make asparagus seem bitter). All of these scientific facts add up to one conclusion all cooks can understand – purple asparagus spears are sweet and tender. The kind you can eat raw.

I’m not saying you can’t cook purple asparagus. For science’s sake, I steamed several from my Melissa’s Produce package soon after they arrived at my house. Have I said “Thank You” yet?

(Thank you)

As with many purple foods, purple asparagus turns green (or greenish) when cooked – though the flavor remains the same. Actually I shouldn’t say purple asparagus turn green, but cooking does cause a chemical reaction in the anthocyanins which reveals the green chlorophyll beneath the purple anthocyanins that was always there.

While we’re on the subject of science, I have more science for you. Actually genetics. Whether cooked or raw, my favorite thing about purple asparagus is that it’s bred to be nice and fat. Perfect for shaving or thinly slicing into a salad.

And I do mean bred to be fat. That’s more of the science I was talking about. The thing is, asparagus is not like a giant sequoia tree. It doesn’t get thicker as it ages. You can’t chop one down and read the rings to see how old it is. Purple asparagus is more like bamboo – it comes out of the ground as thick as it ever gets. Genes, not age make asparagus thick or thin. See how delicious science can be? GREG

Purple AsparagusShaved Purple AsparagusShaved Purple AsparagusPurple AsparagusI received a complimentary sample of purple asparagus from Melissa’s Produce. All opinions are my own.

Shaved Asparagus Salad with Walnuts 

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 4–6Published

You don’t need to cut off the tough ends of the asparagus before you shave them. Working one stalk at a time, lay the asparagus on a cutting board. Holding onto the tough end, use a vegetable peeler to shave asparagus into ribbons from the tender part of the stalk to the tip, peeling away from the tough end in your hand. Discard tough end.

Shaved Asparagus Salad with Walnuts


  • 12 thick spears purple asparagus (about 1 ½ lbs)
  • ¼ cup walnut oil
  • ¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoon minced fresh chives
  • 1 pinch each kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  • Parmesan cheese (to taste)
  • 2 ounce toasted walnuts (coarsely chopped)


Working with 1 asparagus spear at a time, use a vegetable peeler to shave spears into long, thin shavings, see notes below. Transfer shavings to a medium bowl.

In a small bowl, whisk walnut oil, lemon juice, chives and a pinch each salt and pepper until emulsified. Pour enough of the mixture into the bowl with the asparagus to lightly dress the shavings; toss to coat. Divide the dressed asparagus between salad plates. Use a vegetable peeler to shave thin shards of Parmesan on each salad, then sprinkle with walnuts. Serve immediately with remaining dressing on the side.