Getting big air – blame the bacteria!

A picture of a plate showing beans on toast

A picture of a plate showing beans on toast

“Beans, beans, the musical food, the more you eat the more you toot!” goes the well-known children’s tune.

And sometimes those ‘toots’ can have a rather pungent aroma.

Over 2 million people in the UK will eat baked beans today (and every other day) and they’ve got an excuse for letting off an eggy one (or two) afterwards: it’s not their fault, but that of the bugs in their gut!

Beans contain carbohydrates known as oligosaccharides. We lack the enzymes needed to break these down and so they pass through our small intestine largely unchanged.

However, our large intestine is home to some gut flora called Methanobrevibacter smithii. These bacteria feed on them producing copious amounts of flatus (the more pleasant name for ‘fart gas’) as part of the fermentation process, which is then naturally released (or can be at one’s own leisure).

So if you’re one of the many tucking into a baked bean sandwich today, rest easy in the knowledge it’s the bugs in your large intestine that are to blame for the smell!

About Derek Shirlaw

I'm passionate about science communication, social media, and my home country, Scotland. In particular, I have a real interest in astronomy, digital marketing, and the great outdoors.
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