Re: Stinky Asparagus Pee

6.23.2010

It was brought to my attention by an observant reader of my posts that although I had a valid reason to find it gross and slightly awkward that my boyfriend, after having had eaten asparagus, asked me why his pee smelled, it is, surprisingly, a legitimate question.

So I did some research and have come to set the record straight.

Apparently, in 1891 a scientist named Nencki convinced four guys (I'd be inclined to call them suckers) to eat about three and a half pounds each of asparagus (let's hope for their sakes it was seasoned and grilled and delicious). The unfortunate fellow then collected the pee and concluded that the smell was due to a metabolite called methanethiol.

Nencki claimed that as our body metabolizes asparagus, it produces this smelly chemical, which our kidneys see fit to dump into the bladder. (This info from an article I found online from the Discovery Channel.)

Now, I've also found a few other theories, such as this book, which suggests that asparagus contains a sulfur compound called mercaptan, also found in onions, garlic, rotten eggs, and in the secretions of skunks.

Interestingly enough, some people do not have the gene to break down this enzyme, so they can eat asparagus without stinking up the bathroom. I'm inclined to think I am one of these people, having never noticed the Great Post-Asparagus Stink.

When I told this to my boy and asked his forgiveness for questioning his sanity, he said, "Well, I know it's a legit question. What I care about is when the smell will go away."

That, I fear, I do not know. My apologies to all. And good luck.

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