The Corner

The Things You Learn

In today’s G-File I wrote:

As everybody knows, there’s no difference between good flan and bad flan, but there is a huge difference between a well-run 7-11 and a badly run one. Yet somehow the producers couldn’t find a single 7-11 where the hot dogs on the perpetual rollers have been there since the Harding administration. Apparently, they just couldn’t locate a 7-11 where what appears to be brown caulking between the bathroom tiles . . . isn’t caulk. The franchise with coffee that smells like a long-haul trucker’s urine after a healthy portion of asparagus and the storage room containing both an unlicensed chinchilla ranch and a very confused man in a ballerina outfit handcuffed to the sprinkler pipe also completely escaped their notice.

If you want to know the context, you’ll have to subscribe. But a reader informs me that not everyone can smell the asparagus smell in urine. From Wikipedia:

The effect of eating asparagus on the eater’s urine has long been observed:

“[Asparagus] cause a filthy and disagreeable smell in the urine, as everybody knows.” (Treatise of All Sorts of Foods Louis Lemery, 1702)[24]

“asparagus… affects the urine with a foetid smell (especially if cut when they are white) and therefore have been suspected by some physicians as not friendly to the kidneys; when they are older, and begin to ramify, they lose this quality; but then they are not so agreeable” (“An Essay Concerning the Nature of Aliments,” John Arbuthnot, 1735)[25]

Asparagus “…transforms my chamber-pot into a flask of perfume.” Marcel Proust (1871–1922) [26]

There is debate about whether all (or only some) people produce the smell, and whether all (or only some) people identify the smell. It was originally thought this was because some of the population digested asparagus differently than others, so that some people excreted odorous urine after eating asparagus, and others did not. However, in the 1980s three studies from France,[27] China and Israel published results showing that producing odorous urine from asparagus was a universal human characteristic. The Israeli study found that from their 307 subjects all of those who could smell ‘asparagus urine’ could detect it in the urine of anyone who had eaten asparagus, even if the person who produced it could not detect it himself.[28] Thus, it is now believed that most people produce the odorous compounds after eating asparagus, but only about 22% of the population have the autosomal genes required to smell them.[29][30][31]

And you thought we were done with the urine talk in the Corner. Hah!

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