- A distinct smell is produced in the urine when the vegetable is broken down
- One compound in the odour is also found in rotten eggs, onions and garlic
- But experts found several genes are likely to play a role in the ability to detect it
- A new study also found men were more likely than women to be able to smell it
The reason why some people can smell asparagus in their urine after they’ve eaten it and others can’t has been discovered.
When the digestive system breaks the vegetable down into smaller compounds, a distinct smell is produced.
One such compound – mercaptan – is also found in rotten eggs, onions and garlic and has a potent sulphur-like odour.
But whether or not an adult can recognise this smell in their urine is all down to their genes, scientists claim.
Some 800 genes are now known to play a part in the odour recognition, according to a study led by Harvard University researchers.
However, they say women are less likely detect the odour because they sit down to go to the toilet.
The funny odour given off by asparagus comes about when our digestive system breaks the vegetable down into smaller compounds
A group of US scientists from a range of universities conducted research on 6,909 men and women of European-American descent.
Findings published in the British Medical Journal show that two fifths of participants agreed they could smell a distinct odour in their urine after eating asparagus.
But three fifths could not – known as ‘asparagus anosmia’. And men were more likely than women to be able to smell it.
Lead researcher Professor Lorelei Mucci, from Harvard University, said the findings could be due to ‘modest women’.
He said they may be loathed to admit they can smell the distinctive odour in their urine.
While he also suggested that their position during urination might reduce their chances of smelling the odour.
But whether or not an adult actually produces this smell in their urine is all down to genetics, new research suggests
The researchers then analysed the genome – the complete genetic map of a person – to find genes that were associated with asparagus anosmia.
They found several genes that are likely to play a role in smelling asparagus in urine.
But they are still unsure as to why people would have developed the ability to smell it.
One theory is it may have helped our ancestors sniff out a healthy source of food.
Professor Mucci added that asparagus is rich in iron, fibre, zinc, folate, and vitamins A, E and C.
He said that eating the vegetable could theoretically reduce the risk of cancer, cognitive impairment and cardiovascular-related diseases.