Breaking asparagus news

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I have made a startling discovery.

Okay, it’s Kevin who made it, but I think our being the proverbial one flesh entitles me to take credit for his discoveries.

It all started when Al and Christl went out of town.

Al and Christl's asparagus

Starving regulars will know that Al and Christl are gardeners. Excellent gardeners. I’ve been on the receiving end of their produce, their advice, and their tomato seedlings, which Christl grows for me every year in return for clams, oysters, and smoked bluefish.

In addition to tomatoes, squash, strawberries, beans, lettuce, rhubarb, leeks, and herbs, Al and Christl grow asparagus. They have a huge patch of the purple passion variety, which yields pounds and pounds of the stuff from mid-May to mid-June.

So there’s no accounting for Al and Christl’s decision to go to England, to visit their son, from mid-May to mid-June.

While they’re gone, I’m babysitting their tomato seedlings (which, I’m happy to report, are thriving in our hoophouse). In return, I have permission to raid the asparagus patch, which I’ve done every few days.

The asparagus is amazingly good. The spears are thick – some almost as big around as my wrist – but tender all the way to the base. The flesh is tender enough that you can eat it raw, and it gets melty and luscious when you cook it.

But that’s not the discovery. This is the discovery:

Drumroll, please …

Purple asparagus doesn’t make your pee smell!

Surprisingly, the mechanism by which regular green asparagus does make your pee smell isn’t well understood. There are a number of suspected chemical culprits, but the research (yes, there is research) has been inconclusive. The issue is complicated by the fact that some people pee very smelly pee, and some people pee not-so-smelly pee. Just to make it harder, there seems to be some 6% of the population that can’t smell the asparagus pee smell at all.

I’ve never minded the asparagus pee phenomenon, which may explain why I didn’t notice that the purple asparagus didn’t produce it. But Kevin did.

There you have it. You heard it here first (or, if you heard it somewhere else, you’ll have the good grace not to mention it). Purple asparagus doesn’t make your pee smell.

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Comments

  1. Well, shit. I’m gonna miss the asparagus pee smell then. We just put in 25 purple asparagus plants this year. Maybe my fondness for the pee smell is just fondness by association. I love asparagus so much, and since we started eating seasonally, it’s just an ephemeral treat, that all aspects of it are dear to me, including having asparagus pee. Our green asparagus is ready for harvest this year. The purple will take two years till it’s ready for a good harvest. At least I’ll be able to mix up the green and purple so we still get the pee smell. BTW, I heard that there are two issues with the “lack” of asparagus pee. A small percentage of people can’t smell it, as you note. But another, separate and small percentage of people don’t produce it. Curiouser and curiouser now that the purple asparagus variant is thrown in the pot.

  2. Kim Graves says:

    But part of the pleasure of eating asparagus is the smell of one’s pee. Asparagus gives pleasure twice – when you eat it and when you pee. Reason enough not to eat the purple.

  3. I have always been amazed at the speed with which asparagus assertively reminds you what you had for dinner the next time you visit the bathroom (having beer with dinner hastens this phenomenon). For that reason alone, I like the smell. It’s ‘oh yeah, we had asparagus for dinner,’ and then I move on.

    Do yourself a favor and put a dark, light-robbing bucket over an emerging few spears and treat yourself to white asparagus. Sauteed in buttah, you’ll get why Europeans are all gaga over them. It would be just the thing for empirical you to try; then you could find out if the purple variety grown white makes your pee smell funny or not.

  4. brother marty says:

    I was packin up my fishin poles rearagin my gear lookin out my front door ant the weather is awesome that gut feelin that you better get your but up to the cape soon you got the fishin bug feelin is takin me over.so I checked your blog to see hows thing goin and I see purple dings in a bucket that look like they were from the brookhaven labs or plum Is;land secret farm or something and I say were am I goin to the twi light zone do they have like rod serling buried some where in Marstons mills then I have to just chucklle and say holy cow im in for the whole Monty da purple dings the chichens with the eggs stuck you know where the ducks that drink like camels its a dventure land ive been focusing on the fishing and forgetting the all inclusive at hotel Tamar-Kevin has so much goin on all ya have to do is look.thank for the insight Marty

  5. Thank you for that breaking asparagus news! Wish I’d known. Just a few weeks back, we planted more of the good old green variety. Too late, I suppose, to dig up those root clusters and mail them back.

    This is still great information, though. And very timely. Talk about your live streaming news feeds…

  6. Green purple white, its all good.
    As for the smell it was one of the clues that lead to the understanding of Peptides
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plant_peptide_hormone

    Or for a much more interesting telling try Candice Pert’s excellent book Molecules of Emotion

    SBW

  7. Kate — The latest, greatest science is that it’s likely that there’s a spectrum of asparagus pee smell production, and the people who produce the least may do it at undetectable levels — it’s not so much that some people do and some people don’t. And I’m with you and ..

    Kim … about not minding pee smell at all. It’s part of the experience.

    Paula – The speed has amazed me as well. It can kick in before dessert! And I may try that trick for white asparagus — if and when my own asparagus bed begins to produce.

    Marty – It’s not so weird. I promise!

    Al – *GROAN*

    SBW – Thanks for the references. It’s funny how, when you dig a little about the science of plants, you come up with some really interesting stuff.

  8. Ha! I had no idea. Our asparagus is still little so I don’t think we will get to harvest any until next year. I don’t think it’s purple though so asparagus pee is still in our future. :)

  9. Monica@thedancingfarmer.com says:

    And beyond the issue of smell……..Purple asparagus tastes FAB!
    I like it much much better than any of the green we’ve tried or grow. So very “sweet”.
    As a matter of fact it’s so good I’m moving out some of the green to make more room for purple!