Richard Cornish

Talented few: Not everybody can smell asparagus in their urine. Photo: Jennifer Soo

What causes one's pee to smell after eating asparagus? (various readers)

Well spring has sprung and the first flush of asparagus is well under way, which has led to a deluge of emails from readers querying why their urine has a distinct odour after they have consumed asparagus.

The body metabolises a sulfurous substance in asparagus (asparagusic acid) into a stinky compound, also found in skunk spray (methanethiol).

And not only is this compound not produced by everybody, not everyone can smell it, either. So if you tell us that your wee doesn't stink after eating asparagus, I hate to tell you this but that is something for others to decide.

Our greengrocer is offering organic chicory that looks like it could be delicious. My huge pile of cookbooks offer little help. N. Lee

As a culture we are wary of bitterness. I don't mean bitter in a tear-down-your-own-political-party-in-a-destructive-quest-for-power kind of way. I mean bitter as in not sweet.

Bitter as in that pleasant sharpness on the tongue of a fresh walnut. Bitter as in that light catch on the palate from the skins of just ripe broad beans.

There's loads of different compounds we detect as bitter and one is lactucin, found in the milky substance in lettuce stems and chicory. Chicory is wonderfully bitter. Bitterness, however, can be mitigated by salt. Salt inhibits our tastebuds'  ability to detect bitterness.

Try a pint of English bitter, eat a pack of crisps, then try again. Much easier second time. So, chicory.

Try a little dressing of roughly chopped garlic soaked in red wine vinegar to which double the quantity of robust extra virgin olive is added. Wash and dry a head of chicory, chop on the extreme diagonal, place in a bowl. Sprinkle with a little salt, massage the dressing through the leaves. Chop half a tin of good anchovies and spread over the chicory. Serve with a shoulder of roasted spring lamb. Perhaps a bottle of Italian red?

Why does spinach taste gritty? J. Appleton

Spinach is grown in market gardens that are found in flat-lying areas around our cities. We are a nation living by the sea and the flat-lying areas around our cities are generally old sea beds, low hills made from sand that's blown in from a dry sea bed in last Ice Age, or a flood plain made from ancient rocks from the sea floor.

So if you don't wash spinach very well, at least twice, it will always be gritty from the sandy soil in which it was grown. Spinach also contains oxalic acid that registers in the mouth as a feeling of roughness.

Try it with lemon and butter – the citric acid leaves a clean finish and the butter is  just yummy.

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