Scientists Take the 'Toot' Out of Beans

Bowl of baked beans. (Image credit: stock.xchng)

Bean lovers know there's some truth to this schoolyard saying: Beans, beans, the musical fruit. The more you eat, the more you toot! Noisy flatulence following a burrito is just a part of life for some people.

Chefs can tinker with beans to make them less offensive, but oftentimes, pre-treating a food to correct one problem reduces its nutritional value.

Now a team of researchers has identified two types of bacteria that could help take the toot out of beans while also making them more nutritious.

Gas primer

Bacteria living in the large intestine are tasked to break down food that wasn't fully digested in the stomach or small intestine, particularly things like the large quantity of soluble fiber in beans.

As the bacteria glean the final bits of nutrients from your meal, they release tiny bubbles of methane gas. The bubbles conglomerate and eventually find their way out of the body, potentially disturbing social situations.

Many bean recipes call for soaking beans in water overnight before baking. Soaked beans take less time to cook, but they also ferment a little. Fermentation breaks down the bean's nutrients so your gut doesn't have to work so hard and you produce less flatulence.

Teaming up

Scientists at Simon Bolivar University in Venezuela determined that adding Lactobacillus casei and L. plantarum to soaking beans improves the fermentation process by efficiently breaking down the fibrous nutrients that can lead to gassy outbursts.

After the bacteria did their thing and the beans were cooked, the amounts of nutrients that could be digested and absorbed from the bean had increased significantly.

The study is detailed online today by the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture.

Bjorn Carey is the science information officer at Stanford University. He has written and edited for various news outlets, including Live Science's Life's Little Mysteries, and Popular Science. When it comes to reporting on and explaining wacky science and weird news, Bjorn is your guy. He currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his beautiful son and wife.