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Why asparagus pee smells weird & why some people claim theirs doesn't

Dr. Elizabeth Yuko is the Health Editor at SheKnows. She is a bioethicist and writer specializing in sexual and reproductive health and the intersection of bioethics and popular culture. She is an adjunct professor of ethics at Fordham ...

Whether or not you can smell asparagus pee is genetic

Few topics will get people to enthusiastically discuss the characteristics of their urine quite like asparagus.

First of all, there’s the smell itself. Why does it happen? Is it your body’s way of bragging that you ate a healthy vegetable? Why does it smell like a skunk rolled around in old cooked cabbage and then sat in a crowded subway car in July?

Then there’s the fact that it happens so quickly. If asparagus is on the menu, it may rear its ugly smell as early as a mid-meal bathroom break.

More: 4 asparagus side dishes in under 30 minutes

Lastly, there’s the controversy. Some people claim that their pee doesn’t smell weird after eating asparagus. Others claim never to have smelled the asparagus-scented urine at all.

With asparagus on the table during many holiday dinners (if you cut off the very top part it does kind of look like a Christmas tree), this seemed like the perfect time to take a closer look at this physiological phenomenon.

More: 3 tasty new ways to serve asparagus at Thanksgiving

We still don’t know exactly why post-asparagus-consumption urine smells like that. Most scientists are on board with the fact that it starts with asparagusic acid — a sulfuric compound only found in asparagus. After that, it gets a little fuzzy, and may have to do with the different ways our bodies metabolize the green stalky vegetable.

Also, it looks like it’s not a matter of whether someone’s asparagus pee smells or not — it comes down to genetics whether or not a person has the ability to smell it. If nothing else, it makes for a lively post-holiday meal family discussion.

More: Conquer leftovers with salmon and asparagus fried rice

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