Excretion and perception of a characteristic odor in urine after asparagus ingestion: a psychophysical and genetic study

Chem Senses. 2011 Jan;36(1):9-17. doi: 10.1093/chemse/bjq081. Epub 2010 Sep 27.


The urine of people who have recently eaten asparagus has a sulfurous odor, which is distinct and similar to cooked cabbage. Using a 2-alternative forced-choice procedure, we examined individual differences in both the production of the odorants and the perception of this asparagus odor in urine. We conclude that individual differences exist in both odorant production and odor perception. The biological basis for the inability to produce the metabolite in detectable quantities is unknown, but the inability to smell the odor is associated with a single nucleotide polymorphism (rs4481887) within a 50-gene cluster of olfactory receptors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Asparagus Plant / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Metabolism
  • Middle Aged
  • Odorants / analysis*
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide
  • Receptors, Odorant / genetics*
  • Smell / genetics*
  • Smell / physiology
  • Sulfur
  • Urine / chemistry*
  • Young Adult


  • Receptors, Odorant
  • Sulfur