Will the hype about "royal vegetables" soon be history? After some very strong years, the per capita consumption of asparagus in Germany has recently fallen. And the domestic harvest fell significantly - fewer than last year was harvested ten years ago. But does that mean that the mass hysteria and media hype surrounding the spear are over? Does the "white gold" no longer shine? Time to search for clues in the asparagus republic that is possibly going under.
A Yougov survey commissioned by the German Press Agency last year gave indications that the great German love of asparagus could gradually be dying out because the younger generation likes it less. Accordingly, asparagus is significantly less popular with young adults than with older people. Is he a senior vegetable?
Young people are skeptical
Asparagus farmers notice the skepticism of young people. The chairman of the Beelitz asparagus association, Jürgen Jakobs, says: "Basically, there are many older people who eagerly await the asparagus in spring, peel it themselves, prepare it lovingly and celebrate its consumption. Asparagus has the aura of a feast for them," says Jakobs. "But on the other hand, there are younger people in particular who find it too time-consuming to eat asparagus," observes Jakobs. "They often think indifferently: 'You can do it, but it doesn't have to be'."
You can't win many of them with the ready-peeled asparagus from the refrigerated shelf, even if it should actually take "the horror of 20 minutes of peeling asparagus," as Jakobs jokes.
The cultivation area in Beelitz, Brandenburg, near Berlin, is one of the most well-known in Germany. The area under cultivation will continue to decrease here, says Jakobs. It is currently around 1500 hectares, at the peak of around 2020 it was around 2000 hectares.
"There was an overall decline in asparagus consumption in 2022 - both for domestic and imported asparagus. This was probably mainly due to the reluctance to buy because of the Ukraine war and the growing fear of the crisis and inflation," says Jakobs. "You keep buying potatoes, milk and butter, but you might make compromises when it comes to asparagus, which tends to be a luxury." So far this year he has had the impression that purchasing behavior has almost returned to the old status.
Nevertheless, it is currently being decided whether the asparagus culture in this country will remain as it was for a long time. "We're not fooling ourselves: the buzz about white asparagus is a Central European phenomenon in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Even the Dutch only eat a sixth of what an average German eats," says Jakobs. The question is whether there will be a trend reversal and the Germans will turn their backs on white asparagus. "Many immigrants only know green asparagus, which is less seasonal, more versatile and easier to prepare - even on the grill, for example." When it comes to purchasing behavior, there is a trend towards green asparagus. He used to only have a 5 to 10 percent market share, now it's around 20.
"The big advantage of green asparagus is that you don't have to peel it," says cultural scientist Gunther Hirschfelder. The professor from the University of Regensburg, who studied history as well as agricultural science, also sees the problem with white asparagus that it does not fit in with current nutritional trends.
"The classic German setting of eating asparagus in the tradition of home-style cooking with meat, vegetables, side dish and sauce as well as cutlery and a glass of wine is currently being completely broken up," explains the book author ("European Food Culture: A History of Nutrition from the Stone Age to the present day").
"People under 30 tend to have more eating situations throughout the day, like all-in-one food from a pot or a bowl, something like bowls, which are available in many Asian shops or Arabic restaurants," says Hirschfelder. It is important that it is "easy to eat". "It should be quick, maybe even "to go", i.e. on the go, and primarily be able to be eaten without accidents. Even without too much cutlery. Whole sticks that have to be cut are impractical. That doesn't fit at all with the fact that you plays on their phones while they eat. They need things they can eat with a spoon best."
Prick asparagus with hunched backs
The earlier reputation of asparagus as a white, pure luxury vegetable, for example in Germany in the 1980s, has also been ruined. Today, asparagus, as a seasonal vegetable, is the subject of most debate about temporary work. It has more flavor than packaged vegetables from Greece or Spain. "The images of people who are carted up in buses and then have to dig asparagus in German fields with their backs bent are closer to us. Asparagus has suffered image damage, especially among young people, as a vegetable of social inequality."
The German asparagus growers are against it and now want to take the enjoyment to the extreme. You announced the "German Asparagus Day" on May 5th as a "world premiere". In a message it was said in advance that customers might receive a few spears of asparagus for free on this day or an asparagus peeler with the imprint "Sharp on asparagus" - "or one of the cheeky postcards with snappy slogans like "lonely tip", " We have top quality off the shelf" or "Better our local hero than a global player"" about the advantages of German asparagus.