Seniors & Aging

Pam Stone | Odorous asparagus a problem, even for Ben Franklin

Perhaps it’s because I came from “depression era” parents, but boy, I hate to see food go to waste, so with this in mind, for the third time in a week, I entered the house with yet another bouquet of asparagus from the garden.

It’s the only vegetable we’ve had success with in the last couple of years. Our tomato crop was a dismal failure, and the peppers petered out, but the asparagus, which, for some reason, Paul sowed in the middle of an enormous rose bed, appears to be breeding like rabbits, and each morning I’d swear there are another half-dozen green stalks bursting through the mulch.

“For dinner!” I chirped, sticking the dozen or so spears in a jug on the kitchen island, “We can have it with salmon.”

“Again?” said Paul. “We just had some.”

“I know, but you like it, and it’s so healthy.”

“Yeah, but it’s gotten to the point where I want to wear a mask when I … ” he stopped.

“Stinky pee?” I asked. “That’s perfectly normal.”

And it is. A quick Google led me to some marvelous quotes just to show stinky pee is not some recent affliction. According to the Smithsonian, distinguished Scottish mathematician and physician John Arbuthnot wrote in 1731 that “asparagus affects the urine with a foetid smell,” and philosopher Marcel Proust wrote that the vegetable “transforms my chamber pot into a flask of perfume” (and this was before Glade). Even our own Benjamin Franklin stated in a letter he wrote to the Royal Academy of Brussels, “A few stems of asparagus eaten shall give our urine a disagreeable odor.”

And if you’re thinking, like me, “Why on earth would Ben even write that in a letter, anyway?” Well, it’s because he was, according to Smithsonian, trying to convince the academy to “discover some drug … that shall render the natural discharges of wind from our bodies not only inoffensive, but agreeable as perfumes.”

Bless his heart. Benjamin Franklin was married for 44 years but spent 18 of those apart from his wife, and I will bet you money it had something to do with asparagus. And maybe cabbage. But alas, the Royal Academy, as respected as it was, could not, at that time, come up with Beano.

“Wanna know why you get stinky pee?” I asked Paul.

“Not particularly,” said Paul, “but I can see you’re on a roll.”

“It says here,” I said, scrolling down, “that asparagus is the only vegetable that has ‘asparagusic acid,’ and our bodies convert that to sulfur containing chemicals that smell. It’s the same stuff as in garlic and skunk spray. So that’s why you have stinky pee.”

“And you,” Paul reminded me.

“Nope,” I replied brightly, “I don’t. Only some people have it.”

That is only half true. It seems there is quite a debate about stinky pee. It used to be thought that — like the stupid striped dress that was in the news a while back that some, like Paul, saw as blue and black, and others, like me, saw as white and gold — some people just don’t make stinky pee.

(By the way, someone bet me $100 that I couldn’t write a column and use the phrase “stinky pee” a minimum of 10 times.)

Other scientists, however, claim that everyone who eats asparagus gets stinky pee (that’s eight), but some people’s sense of smell don’t detect it.

“Well, then, that must be you,” said Paul, a note of triumph in his voice. “I’m normal, and you have something wrong with your sense of smell.”

“Trust me,” I replied. “Actually, trust any woman who lives with a man. Our sense of smell is highly acute.”

Just ask Mrs. Franklin.

At the end of the day, we ate our asparagus, lightly boiled for a couple of minutes, then drizzled with blood-orange-flavored olive oil, and it was delectable as always. We then settled in to watch a movie and, to Paul’s great relief, I didn’t make a single comment regarding stinky pee (that’s nine).

Shoot!

Reach PAM STONE at pammstone@gmail.com.

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