Arrow-right Camera
News >  Spokane

Paul Turner: About that after-asparagus ‘disagreeble odour’ …

UPDATED: Sun., May 21, 2017, 6:58 a.m.

Eating asparagus is good for you, but it can make your pee stink.

This awareness is not new.

In 1781, Benjamin Franklin wrote, “a few stems of asparagus eaten, shall give our urine a disagreeable odour.”

No kidding, Ben.

But here’s the thing. Apparently not everyone produces this telltale sulfurous smell (at least not to the same degree), and not everyone can detect it when it is present.

With the helpful guidance of John Fellman, a professor of plant physiology at Washington State University, a survey of the asparagus urine research suggests the following broad findings.

At the Country Mercantile, which features locally grown and packaged foods at its location on Highway 395 north of Pasco, Wash., Foster's pickled asparagus and beans are featured on a display shown Friday, May 5, 2017.  Foster's is the brand name for Columbia Valley Family Farms, a large family asparagus growing and packing operation in the Columbia Valley.  (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
At the Country Mercantile, which features locally grown and packaged foods at its location on Highway 395 north of Pasco, Wash., Foster's pickled asparagus and beans are featured on a display shown Friday, May 5, 2017. Foster's is the brand name for Columbia Valley Family Farms, a large family asparagus growing and packing operation in the Columbia Valley. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

♦Some undetermined segment of the population produces the aroma. Some segment does not.

♦Some segment is predisposed to detect the odor, while another part of the general population does not detect it.

♦There may be a connection between producing the aroma and being able to detect it.

So it comes down to a matter of production vs. perception. In any event, evidence suggests it’s all a matter of genetic differences.

But for those who can smell that smell, the molecular science does not begin to describe what the nose knows.

Stalks of change

Trade deals just about spoiled Washington’s asparagus industry. Farmers quit the crop. Canneries closed. Then, slowly, farmers used technology and grit to create a second chance. | READ MORE »

Yakima County asparagus farmer Ron Granholm said the offending bouquet can be breathtaking.

“It’s amazing what asparagus can do to your pee,” he said. “It really stinks.”

Amazing is certainly one word for it.

Smithsonian.com put it succinctly: “Our bodies convert asparagusic acid into sulfur-containing chemicals that stink.”

The aroma is so pronounced some have been known to consider upcoming social engagements when deciding whether to consume asparagus.

You know, “Will I be a leading source of air pollution if I eat asparagus now and use the bathroom at that party tonight?”

One asparagus-loving Spokane couple refers to the scent of the sour urine simply as “the problem.”

How to kill a (green) giant

Town of Dayton, Washington, lost its asparagus business to the so-called ‘War on Drugs’ but its residents have persevered. | READ MORE »

Onset has been noted just mere minutes after dining on the vegetable in question.

But one study found 58 percent of men and 62 percent of women were unable to smell the funky asparagus aftereffect.

To those who can detect the odor, that must seem remarkable. Because when you can smell it, you can really smell it.

WSU’s Fellman said that within the scientific community, this is largely viewed as a nonproblem. So a miracle cure likely is not in the offing, at least not anytime soon.

Meantime, some fans of asparagus will tell you the key to living in harmony with the succulent spears is a powerful bathroom fan.


Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter

Get the day's top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter

There was a problem subscribing you to the newsletter. Double check your email and try again, or email webteam@spokesman.com

You have been successfully subscribed!