Every spring, when grocery stores are filled with fresh asparagus, I’m reminded of a past dinner party when we served asparagus to our friends. After some drinks and a few trips to the bathroom, one of our guests mentioned in passing, “the asparagus effect”. My husband and I chuckled, however a few of our other guests did not get the joke. According to statistics, only about half of you will know what I am talking about. Asparagus contains sulfur compounds that, when broken down in our urine, give off a strong smell similar to cooked cabbage. It appears that only about 46% of people experience this smell after eating asparagus.
There has surely been debate among friends who insist the “non-smellers” are simply too polite to admit theodour. There is however, a scientific explanation for this mystery. Believe it or not, the subject of “odorous asparagus urine” has been the topic of much research and debate since 1891. It was originally thought that those who could not smell theodourwere simply not producing the sulfur compounds. It was later shown that some people produced the sulfur compounds but were simply not able to smell them. Is your head spinning yet?
We now know that the ability to produce and smell the odorous asparagus compounds is genetically determined. People are divided into “producers or non-producers” and “smellers or non-smellers”. It is controlled by a dominant gene which means if both your parents experience “the asparagus effect” you will most likely get it as well. Sure enough, I am a producer and a smeller – as are both my parents and my husbands parents. This could create quite the discussion at your next family function.
There are no known health benefits associated with the sulfurous “asparagus effect”. It is purely a bit of metabolic trivia for those interested in the idiosyncrasies of the human body. That is not to say there are no health benefits to eating asparagus. As a green vegetable it provides a rich source of potassium, folate and B vitamins. It contains less than 4 calories per spear and provides a good source of fibre at a meal. Another nice feature of this vegetable is the ease of preparation. There is no slicing or scrubbing required. Simply rinse well and chop off the tough ends. You can steam them for a few minutes on the stove or cook them briefly in the microwave with a bit of water. My favorite way to serve asparagus is brushed lightly with olive oil, sprinkled with coarse salt and barbequed on the grill until just tender. It’s always worth cooking up extra to use the next day in an omelet or wrapped in deli meat as a snack. (See Asparagus recipes).
Asparagus is truly a versatile and healthful vegetable with a little surprise, courtesy of Mother Nature, to remind us of the countless wonders going on inside the human body.
9 Ways To Serve Asparagus:
1. BBQ with olive oil and course salt
3. Microwave and squeeze 1/2 a lemon over top before serving
4. Roasted with olive oil and parmesan cheese
5. Wrapped in prosciutto and melon
6. Wrapped in prosciutto and baked
7. Leftovers in an omelet
9. Baked in quiche and other casseroles