Weird weather means wonky asparagus selling cheap in UK supermarkets

Unlike the usual straight asparagus spears, this year's crop is crooked because changing weather has affected the plant's growth cycles. PHOTO: ST FILE
Unlike the usual straight asparagus spears, this year's crop is crooked because changing weather has affected the plant's growth cycles. PHOTO: ST FILE

LONDON (GUARDIAN) - Weird weather means wonky asparagus - at lower prices. A wonky version of one of the UK's most expensive vegetables, asparagus, has gone on sale this week for just £1 (S$1.78) at a major supermarket chain, in a drive to stop the crop - misshapen as a result of this spring's fluctuating temperatures - from being wasted.

Asparagus, prized for its perfect upright spears, is usually available from late April until the summer solstice in June.

But this year, a warm early spring has encouraged asparagus shoots to push up early. As shoots track the sun around the sky - and early spring sun levels are low - some of the crop has grown into an uncharacteristic crooked shape. Changeable temperatures have also led to shorter and longer spears.

Morrisons has added the crooked asparagus to its 14-strong wonky fruit and veg range - which includes carrots and potatoes - and launched last year in a bid to tackle food waste.

"We've stepped in to buy the crop as we wanted to help growers and put this normally luxury ingredient into the hands of shoppers for just a pound," said Mr Michael Weightman, asparagus buyer at Morrisons.

The wonky line aims to help fruit or veg which are misshapen, have growth cracks, or are much smaller or larger than average to be used rather than rejected and wasted. In previous years farmers may have sent wonky vegetables to be processed into other food products such as stir fries and soups or may not have harvested the crop at all.

But an earlier attempt by Morrisons to sell wonky courgettes was branded "pathetic" by the chef and campaigner Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in his War On Waste TV programme.

Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury's and Waitrose also have wonky veg lines.

"The warm early spring and temperature fluctuations have resulted in 10 to 15 per cent of our asparagus crop growing wonky this spring," said Mr James Dale of the grower Flamingo Produce. "Growing asparagus takes many years of hard work so we're grateful that this part of the crop is being sold on to customers and will not be wasted."

Meanwhile, English asparagus went on sale more than three weeks earlier than usual - at the end of March - in Tesco stores. The high-quality jubilee variety has been exclusively grown for the supermarket in Suffolk.

Tesco also offered customers English carrots for just 29p thanks to a seasonal bumper crop which matured early because of the early spring. It took an extra 1 million carrots from growers, slashing the price for a 1kg bag from 45p to just 29p.

The asparagus will be sold at just £1 for a 180g bag, making it what Morrisons claims is the cheapest fresh asparagus on the market. Aldi is selling a smaller amount (100g) for £1.19, while Lidl is selling 250g for £1.60. At Asda, a 150g bunch goes for £1.