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ASPARAGUS

Only in Germany: McDonald’s begins offering ‘Spargel Burger’

Amid Germany's famous 'Asparagus Season', the fast food chain has begun offering an unusual twist on typical ingredients.

Only in Germany: McDonald's begins offering 'Spargel Burger'
A basket of Spargel in Kutzleben, Thuringia marked the start of this year's season on April 14th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Martin Schutt

How do you know that you’re definitely in Germany? One sure fire way: when you check the menu of a McDonald’s in the springtime and see a ‘Spargel Burger’. 

Germans are so enamored by the ‘white gold’ –  special light-coloured asparagus which is much thicker than its North American green counterpart – that it’s now a featured fast food at McDonald’s Germany, and with classic Hollandaise sauce and bacon to boot. 

On Thursday, the popular American fast-food chain restaurant – which counts nearly 1,500 outlets in Germany – published a photo of the “Big Spargel Hollandaise” saying that it would be available at select restaurants. They assured customers: “Yes, it’s really there.”

But its release was met with mixed reactions. “We absolutely have to go to McDonald’s sometime,” wrote one. Yet another called the unconventional creation “perverse.”

Another commenter showed skepticism: “Hollandaise sauce on a burger? Does that even taste good?”

Others weighed in on social media to point out that the product is a sign of Germany’s fascination with the vegetable. 

The burger is the latest to join the asparagus craze, with a phallic-shaped Spargel monument in Torgau, Saxony capturing the public attention – or bewilderment – earlier in the week.

An annual tradition

Every year, Germany typically celebrates ‘Spargelzeit’ (asparagus season) from the middle of April until June 24th, which many dub ‘Spargelsilvester’ (Asparagus-New Year’s Eve). 

READ ALSO: German word of the day: Spargelzeit

The beloved vegetable, harvested heavily around the country, usually has its own special menu devoted to it at restaurants, and is sold in supermarkets – or road-side stands – next to jars of the classic Hollandaise sauce. 

The top states which grow the crop are Lower Saxony, Bavaria and North Rhine-Westphalia, but Beeliz, Brandenburg is also synonymous with Spargel in Germany. 

In normal years the tiny town hosts a sprawling festival to mark the start of the season, anointing a Spargel king and queen.

READ ALSO: Here’s why Germans go so completely crazy for asparagus

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FARMING

Chilly weather leads to soaring asparagus prices in Germany

Every year the Germans seem to be driven wild by an unlikely hero: white asparagus. But this year, the cold and damp spring means customers have had to fork out a bit more to get their hands on some stalks of this ‘edible ivory’.

Chilly weather leads to soaring asparagus prices in Germany
A Spargel farmer hands a batch to a customer in Bickenbach, Hesse. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sebastian Gollnow

It is now more than halfway through Germany’s famous asparagus season, which traditionally ends on June 24th, also known as Spargelsilvester (Asparagus New Year). However, poor weather means this year’s harvest has already been compromised.

The main reason for the low yield was the cold start to the year. “When there is no sun, the ground doesn’t warm up” explained Simon Schumacher, the spokesperson for the Asparagus and Strawberry Farmers’ Association of Southern Germany.

According to Franziska Rintisch, the head of the Franconian Union of Asparagus Producers,  “if we didn’t have polytunnels, there would be almost no asparagus yield”. 

Without warm earth, the asparagus simply will not grow. At the halfway point of the season, this means supply of Germany’s precious crop is limited and prices are on the rise. 

At the moment, a kilogram of white asparagus will cost you between €12 and €14 in the local supermarket. For the good stuff, or Sonntagsspargel, Schumacher says you’ll be down an additional €2 or €3 per kilo. 

READ ALSO: German word of the day: Spargelzeit

Those who can live with imperfect asparagus, meaning heads that are broken or not perfectly white, can get their hands on it for a much lower price, especially from direct sellers. 

There is still about a month to go until Spargelsilvester on June 24th, when the season traditionally comes to an end. Up until now, the majority of growers have not been too disappointed with how the season has played out. 

READ ALSO: Only in Germany: McDonald’s begins offering ‘Spargel Burger’

The weather has been somewhat of a double-edged sword. “It feels as if we’re in the middle of the fifth wave of cold weather” complained Fred Eickhorst of the Association of Asparagus and Berry Growers of Lower Saxony. The chilly start to the year actually meant that the season began later than normal, which Eickhorst says explains the low yield up until now. 

“The amount is not what we would wish for, but the higher market price makes up for it”. 

Growers around the country echo these views. “We are content,” said Petra Högl of the Abensberg Association of Growers of High Quality Asparagus. 

Anke Knaup of the Lippe Society of Asparagus Growers even went as far to say that she is “very content”. 

A basket of Spargel in Kutzleben, Thuringia marked the start of this year’s season on April 14th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Martin Schutt

Home-cooked Spargel

She notes a further advantage of the weather: as people are not having as many barbecues, more asparagus is being cooked at home. All in all, the demand has been relatively high, although the hospitality industry has played a smaller role this year. 

In 2020, growers harvested 117,563 tons of white asparagus, less than in the four years before that. During the pandemic, many farmers struggled to recruit enough pickers to help with the spring harvest, as many of these workers would normally come from abroad. This has been less of an issue in 2021, suggest the growers’ unions. 

The effort made by seasonal workers was certainly made greater by Covid-19 hygiene measures. According to Peter Strobl of the Southern Bavarian Association of Asparagus Growers, the measures meant that farmers encountered around €1,000 in extra costs per seasonal worker. 

The number of asparagus farms has been sinking year on year, with 1,598 now operating. In total, white asparagus is grown on almost 25,900 hectares across the country. 

Farmers differentiate late varieties of asparagus from the earlier crop, which can be harvested from the end of March until May. Harvest of the late varieties generally begins towards the end of May. 

The switch from early to late varieties can be really great for consumers, as at this point the harvest will often overlap, meaning the supply is much higher and the price of asparagus goes down. 

The slow growth this year may actually be a good thing. “It means the asparagus can grow evenly” says Schumacher, meaning the taste is better.  

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