In North America, the bright green spears of the asparagus plant are a welcome sight in spring and it is one of the first seasonal vegetables to begin appearing in farmer’s markets.
If you’ve recently added this versatile vegetable to your culinary repertoire, you will likely want to know best practices for storage so that you can make the most of your asparagus’s shelf life.
Unlike other products, fresh fruits and vegetables don’t come with clear expiration dates. Sometimes it’s really obvious when something has spoiled, but you should be aware of the specific storage needs of each product so as to make the most of its shelf life and avoid food waste.
How to Tell If Asparagus is Bad
The best part of the asparagus spear is the tender tip, but these are unfortunately the first part of the asparagus spear that begins to spoil.
If the asparagus has begun to spoil, you will notice the tips become a progressively darker green until they are nearly black in color.
The stalk will become limp and mushy and mold spots may begin to appear. It will begin to develop an unpleasant and pungent smell as decay sets in.
As with many other vegetables, if part of the asparagus stalk develops a bad spot, these bad spots can be cut out and discarded.
Even if the tender asparagus tips have turned black and are no longer edible, you may still be able to make use of the rest of the asparagus stalk.
However, if the asparagus stalks are very limp, are developing a slimy texture, or are starting to smell bad, this means they are too far gone and need to be thrown out!
How to Store Asparagus
You likely brought asparagus home from the grocery store as a bundle secured with a rubber band and stored loosely in a plastic bag.
If you plan to use the asparagus up for dinner that night or perhaps make a vegetable quiche with it the following day, it is perfectly acceptable to just put the whole plastic bag in the refrigerator’s crisper drawer.
But if you need to store fresh asparagus for a week or longer, then you should follow these best practices to extend the asparagus’s shelf life for as long as possible.
First, remove the asparagus from the plastic bag. Feel free to leave the elastic band on; it won’t harm the asparagus spears and it keeps them conveniently together.
You then have two options:
- You can wrap the base of the asparagus stalks in a damp paper towel, which will keep it fresh for up to 1 week
- You can place the asparagus spears upright in a glass of water in the refrigerator, which can keep the asparagus viable for up to 2 weeks
With either method, you can loosely cover the asparagus in its plastic bag to keep it clean and separate from other ingredients in the fridge, but make sure that the asparagus can still “breathe”.
Asparagus likes moisture but keeping it moist and sealed in plastic without air circulation will encourage decay and likely make it spoil even faster.
How Long Does Asparagus Last?
As a raw plant ingredient, asparagus’s shelf life is incredibly variable and depends on a number of factors. When shopping for asparagus, look for bright green spears with firm stalks. The tips will be naturally a darker green but should be firm and not at all mushy.
If you’ve purchased good, fresh asparagus and properly stored it, it can last up to 2 weeks.
How Long Does Asparagus Last in the Fridge?
Whereas fresh asparagus generally lasts 2 weeks if stored properly in the refrigerator, its shelf life is significantly reduced if stored improperly or if it has already been cooked.
|Storage Method||Shelf Life|
|No particular method followed||At most 3 days|
|Wrapped in a wet paper towel||Up to 1 week|
|Placed in a glass or jar of water||Up to 2 weeks|
|Cooked and sealed in an airtight container||Up to 5 days|
Can You Freeze Asparagus?
The good news is that you can extend asparagus’s shelf life even further through freezing.
The freezing process will alter the texture of the asparagus somewhat so that it will never be quite like fresh, but this can be a cost-effective way to get the benefits of this nutrient-rich vegetable when it’s off-season.
To make the most of the labor and time required to prep and freeze the asparagus, make sure to choose the best available asparagus spears. Locally grown and in-season asparagus with firm, bright green stalks will yield the best product when frozen.
How to Freeze Asparagus
First, wash and trim the asparagus spears.
You can separate the less edible woody stalks from the more tender parts of the asparagus by holding the asparagus spear at its base and gently bending the stalk, working your way up until you reach the point at which the stalk snaps when you bend it.
The woody bases of the stalks can be composted or reserved for making vegetable stock.
Asparagus spears should be blanched first before freezing. There are 2 ways to blanch fresh asparagus: in boiling water, or in steam.
Both methods will take around 5 minutes, more or less time depending on the size of the asparagus spears.
For the best results, sort the asparagus spears by size and blanch them in batches of similar size.
Small spears will take as little as 2 minutes in boiling water, whereas larger ones may take up to 5 minutes.
As they parcook, the asparagus stalks will turn an even more vibrant green but remain firm and tender.
Blanching asparagus in a steamer basket will take slightly longer, up to 6 minutes for large stalks. As with the boiling method, the stalks will become a vibrant green and should remain firm.
As soon as the asparagus stalks have finished cooking, plunge them into a bowl of ice water — this immediately halts the cooking process and ensures that the asparagus doesn’t overcook and become mushy.
Leave the asparagus in the ice water for the same amount of time that it was in the boiling water or steamer basket.
Placing the asparagus in an ice bath also rapidly cools down the stalks, making them ready for the freezer. The quicker you can get the asparagus in the freezer, the better.
Once the asparagus stalks have completely cooled, remove them from the water and allow excess moisture to drain onto a paper towel.
You now have two more options: you can either freeze the asparagus spears in bulk, or you can individually quick freeze them.
Individually quick frozen products remain separate from one another instead of freezing into one solid mass, so it’s easy to take out exactly what you need and leave the rest.
To individually quick freeze asparagus, lay the washed and dried stalks out on a single layer on a baking sheet and place the entire baking sheet in the freezer.
Once the asparagus stalks have been frozen this way, they can be gathered together into a bag and stored in the freezer for up to 12 months.
If you don’t mind the asparagus spears sticking together or you intend to defrost the entire bunch at once, then you can skip the step with the baking tray.
Make sure that you remove as much air as possible from the freezer bag before storing the asparagus.
Can you Eat Asparagus Raw?
Although asparagus is most often eaten cooked and best storage practices recommend blanching or parcooking it before freezing, you can eat raw asparagus.
Cooking makes the fibrous vegetable easier to digest, but it can still be consumed raw, especially if you take a couple of extra steps in preparation.
Choose only the tenderest parts of the asparagus, peel away any extra woody exterior parts of the stem, and consider grating it into smaller pieces.
You can also mix it with a little lemon juice or another culinary acid like vinegar; this will help to soften the raw asparagus fibers and make it easier to digest.
To Sum Up
Fresh asparagus can go bad very easily, but it is usually obvious when it has spoiled and is no longer good to eat.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to extend your asparagus’s shelf-life, in either the fridge or the freezer, so that you can enjoy it at any time of the year, even when it’s out of season!