The traditional wisdom on asparagus says that the springtime delight, like high summer sweet corn, is best consumed immaculately fresh. Cookbooks recommend storing newly bought asparagus like bouquets of flowers, with the cut ends of the spears immersed in a cup of cool water. It's a relatively pricy vegetable, so carrying out these arcane procedures always feels prudent. And up until now, the alternatives (canned asparagus, frozen asparagus, badly handled asparagus) have not been very appealing.
A new study by researchers at University of Wisconsin-Stout, though, may open a new frontier in asparagus packaging, in the form of X-ray irradiation.
The process was shown to combat microbiological life in picked asparagus, helping to prevent spoiling. Spears that were irradiated with X-rays also tested higher in glucose and fructose a day after picking, meaning they stayed sweeter longer. The X-rays seem to have been powerful enough to make already-cut asparagus a viable option for grocery stores in the future, potentially making them as convenient for consumers as things like green beans and broccoli are today.
Of course, few scientific innovations in the food world come without caveats. In this case, the risk is a product of the word irradiation. Even though many studies have demonstrated the harmlessness of the process, some fear that it would introduce potentially carcinogenic levels of radiation into the food system. X-ray irradiation, though, does not involve radioactive substances.