Thursday, March 3, 2011

Eau d'Asparagus

My day job is conducting clinical trials on the benefits of nutrition on health.  I feel like I'm making a contribution to society.  My research has the potential to improve the quality and quantity of life for many people and to reduce costs associated with health care.  Granted, I'm not identifying cures for cancer or anything, but really, I think almost any research study improves our human existence in some way. Even this one...I think....

Ever notice how after you eat asparagus, there's a distinct and characteristic odor present upon relieving yourself?  Benjamin Franklin did.  He said "a few stems of asparagus eaten shall give our urine a disagreeable odor".  Shakespeare wrote about it too.  If memory serves, I think a reference to this phenomenon even made it into an Austin Powers movie.  I refer to it as the Porcelain Eau d'Asparagus.

I had always just assumed that some plant chemical in the asparagus just happens to smell when it appears in urine.  Coffee is also linked to a characteristic odor in urine.  It's really neither here nor there...just one of those odd things of insignificance.  

But apparently, some Dr. Dorks needed to know more about why.  So, they conducted a clinical trial where they had people smelling the urine of others that had eaten asparagus (seriously).  Turns out, about 10% of people don't make smelly urine after eating asparagus.  Even more strange and interesting, about 10% of people can't smell the asparagus odor in urine...even when it's there.  In fact, it turns out that this is a genetic modification that results in the inability to smell the odor.  There are other genetic modifications out there that result in people not being able to smell sweat or musk.  Again, I'm serious!

How does this research benefit our human existence?  Well....I'm not entirely sure, other than I find it fascinating that people cannot smell certain things.  If only we could choose those things...interesting to think about what each of us would choose as the odor we can't smell!

But regardless of all of the above, asparagus is a yummy, healthy treat that is so easily prepared.  I like to prepare it by breaking off the woody ends, coating in olive oil and lots of salt and pepper, and roasting in the oven at 400 degrees for 15 or 20 minutes.  It's also fabulous in soups and quiches.  

And not that you asked, but I do make "it" and I do smell "it" and up until about an hour ago, I never cared to even think about why.  And I'm not sure I care now, but boy am I craving asparagus!