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The Asparagus Mystery

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The Asparagus Mystery

It’s that time of year when the delicate stalks of delicious asparagus make it to dinner tables everywhere. We love it grilled, steamed, stir-fried, in soups, with a squeeze of lemon, and many other ways. It’s the ultimate springtime vegetable.

But if you’re an avid eater of this vernal delicacy, you’ve probably have noticed something a little … um… smelly after you’ve consumed it. But don’t be alarmed: it’s perfectly normal, and you’re not alone.

Even Benjamin Franklin stated in a 1781 letter, that “a few stems of asparagus eaten, shall give our urine a disagreeable odour.”

Science has an explanation for why asparagus can make your pee smell funny. And it all boils down to one chemical compound: asparagusic acid, which can only be found in asparagus, and which is why no other vegetable seems to cause such a stinky curiosity.

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When our body digests the vegetable, it breaks it down and creates volatile sulfur-containing compounds, resulting in the unpleasant odor that may catch you off guard. And in most cases, it can happen in as quickly as 15 minutes after consuming it, whether it’s eaten raw or cooked.

But interestingly, not everyone suffers from this fetid phenomenon. Scientists have also discovered that nearly 40% of the population either can’t or aren’t able to detect anything unusual in their urine after eating asparagus. Or, that their bodies don’t manufacture the sulfur compounds. A British study from 2010 suggested that “differences existed between individuals in both the production and detection of the scent.” So whether participants simply couldn’t smell it, or didn’t produce the compounds, wasn’t entirely clear. This only further deepens the asparagus mystery.

But funky odors aside, asparagus is loaded with vitamins, fiber, and antioxidants, making it an important vegetable to keep in your diet.

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1 Joyce Gregg { 04.22.17 at 10:05 pm }

A few years ago there was an email going around that said Asparagus would kill cancer cells!!! Do you know anything about it!!?? I love asparagus, and never noticed a different scent with my urine!! Joyce

2 Tony { 04.12.17 at 4:55 pm }

One reason should I go out to a restaurant, I never order asparagus.. it’s within 10 minutes with me and I’m a pharmacist, I’ve smelled sulpher, which is a bit worse but what’s interesting is how far that smell can travel in a very short period of time; talking the elimination part…

All that aside i adore this veggie.. I’ll cook up two bunches just for me & I love it cold also and no one cares @ that smell. Just a fascinating veggie.. how it grows- I may make a quiche now. Got my 2 bunches in the fridge

Tony/ nyc

3 Mike Bramble { 04.12.17 at 7:19 am }

LOL My wife and I have joked about “here comes the stinky pee” for years. My dad always told me it was because there is a little natural arsenic in it, and it cleans out your kidneys.

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