Asparagus is a spring vegetable known for its distinct flavor and impressive health benefits, making it a popular choice in kitchens around the world.
However, fresh asparagus can spoil rather quickly. It’s important to recognize the signs that your asparagus has gone bad in order to ensure you’re enjoying this spring delicacy at its best.
In this article, we’ll discuss how to tell if asparagus is bad, along with the best ways to select and store asparagus so it stays fresh for as long as possible.
Signs that asparagus has gone bad
There are numerous signs that asparagus has gone bad or is past its prime. In some cases, you might be able to salvage the asparagus, but often you will need to throw it out.
1. Limp or shriveled stalks
Fresh asparagus should be firm to the touch with stalks that stand up straight. When consumed raw, they will have a crunchy texture.
One of the first signs you might notice when asparagus has gone bad is limp stalks. They will feel soft and may even appear shriveled because they have begun to dry out.
Verdict: While they don’t look very pretty, asparagus with limp stalks is still technically safe to eat. Try using them in soups and bisques, where it’s easier to hide their softer texture.
2. Discolored tips
Another common sign that asparagus has spoiled is when the tips, which are usually bright green and tightly closed, start to turn dark green or even black.
The discoloration is a result of the natural decay process, as the asparagus begins to break down after spending too much time either in the store, in your refrigerator, or on your counter.
Verdict: If there are no other signs of rotting, you can salvage the stalks by cutting off and discarding the asparagus tips. The stalks can be cut into 2-inch pieces and used in salads and pasta dishes.
3. Mushy or slimy tips
When asparagus tips start to become mushy and slimy, this is a clear indication that asparagus has spoiled. Fresh asparagus tips are firm and crisp, so any change in texture signifies rotting.
This sliminess is due to bacteria growing on the vegetable, causing it to spoil. It is often accompanied by a foul, off-putting smell, which is a surefire sign of decay.
Verdict: When most of the asparagus in the bunch has mushy or slimy tips, it’s best to discard the entire bunch. If only a few stalks have slimy tips, you may be able to salvage the rest of the bunch.
4. Unpleasant odor
A fresh bunch of asparagus should have a mild, grassy scent. However, when asparagus starts to go bad, it can develop a very strong, unpleasant odor with a hint of fishiness.
This off-putting smell is a result of bacteria, which release gases as they break down the asparagus. The odor is usually accompanied by other signs of rotting, like sliminess and mushy tips.
Verdict: Avoid consuming asparagus that smells bad. Trust your nose — if it doesn’t smell right, it’s likely not safe to eat (and it probably won’t taste great either).
5. Mold growth
The last sign that your asparagus has gone bad is the most obvious: mold growth. Molds are microscopic fungi that thrive in warm, humid environments and can be harmful to your health.
Mold that grows on vegetables tends to be green, white, black, or gray in color and often has a fuzzy or powdery texture.
While it may be tempting to simply wash off the mold, this isn’t advised. In foods with heavy mold growth, the mold grows “roots” that extend below the surface and aren’t possible to remove (1).
Verdict: If there’s a lot of mold, it’s best to throw the asparagus out. However, if it’s just a small mold spot, you can remove it by cutting at least one inch around the mold and discarding that portion (1).
How to select asparagus at the grocery store
When selecting asparagus at the grocery store, start by inspecting the stalks. They should be firm, straight, and smooth, not limp or wrinkled.
The ends of the asparagus stalks should look freshly cut, not dry or cracked. Avoid asparagus stalks with lots of white at the ends — this is the tough, woody portion that is typically removed before eating.
Next, take a look at the tips of the asparagus — they should be tightly closed and bright green, not discolored or starting to wilt. Feel the tips to make sure they’re not mushy or slimy.
Finally, give the asparagus the sniff test. It should have a mild, grassy scent with no unpleasant odors. Avoid any asparagus bunch that has an off-putting smell.
How to store asparagus for optimal freshness
Asparagus needs to retain moisture in order to stay fresh for as long as possible. If you simply toss a bunch of asparagus into the crisper drawer, it can start to wilt within a day or two.
Instead, you can use one of the storage methods listed below to help extend the shelf life of your asparagus.
1. In the refrigerator
Upright in water
The best way to store fresh asparagus is upright in water in the refrigerator. This mimics the asparagus’s natural environment and keeps it hydrated, extending its shelf life.
To do this, first trim off the tough, woody ends of the asparagus. Line up the asparagus stalks on a cutting board and use a chef’s knife to slice off about 1-2 inches from the ends.
Next, place the trimmed stalks upright in a cup or jar filled with about an inch of water. Loosely cover the tops of the asparagus stalks with a plastic bag to prevent them from drying out.
You’ll need to change the water every 2 to 3 days or whenever it becomes cloudy. This method will keep your asparagus fresh for up to 7 days.
Wrapped in a damp paper towel
If storing upright isn’t an option in your refrigerator, you can wrap your asparagus in a damp paper towel and place them in an unsealed plastic bag or container.
The damp paper towel helps the stalks retain their moisture and keep them from drying out too quickly, while the unsealed plastic bag allows some air circulation to prevent rotting.
However, this method is not as effective at keeping the asparagus fresh for long periods of time — it’s best to use within a few days.
2. In the freezer
For long-term storage, consider freezing asparagus. Properly frozen asparagus lasts for at least 6 months, or up to one year, in the freezer.
To freeze asparagus, you’ll need to blanch them. Blanching destroys the enzymes that cause vegetables to lose some of their flavor, color, and texture over time, even in the freezer (2).
Start by submerging the asparagus in boiling water for 2-4 minutes (3). Next, transfer the asparagus to an ice bath to cool down for a few minutes.
Once cool, use a slotted spoon or tongs to remove the asparagus from the ice bath and let them dry out on a paper towel or clean dishcloth.
Finally, place the blanched and dried asparagus in a plastic freezer bag or airtight container and store in the freezer.
The most common signs that asparagus has gone bad or is past its prime include limp or shriveled stalks, discolored tips, mushy or slimy tips, unpleasant odors, and mold growth.
In some cases, it’s possible to salvage asparagus by removing any discolored, slimy, or mushy parts. However, it’s best to discard the asparagus if you smell any unpleasant odors or see signs of extensive mold growth and decay.
To make sure your asparagus stays fresh for as long as possible, store it in the refrigerator, either upright in a jar filled with an inch of water, or wrapped in a damp paper towel. For long-term storage, consider freezing asparagus.
Amy Richter is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist based in Missouri. She is an experienced nutrition writer and medical advisor for Healthline and Medical News Today. Amy is passionate about all things food-related and enjoys translating complex science into easy-to-understand articles.