Known as Prim Beans, the new variety was developed by Dr Colin Leakey who first started looking into flatulence-free beans in the late 1960s when he was working in Uganda. He noticed that mothers were reluctant to feed their children beans because they would develop colic. This meant that they were missing out on a very valuable source of protein.
Manteca beans have long been grown in Chile, and their no-flatulence property is believed to be due to the tannins in their seed coat. Dr Leakey found a way to make these beans suitable for the UK climate. Part of the rationale behind this was to give farmers another crop, which could help with crop rotation and reduce the need for agrichemicals.
Prim Beams are now being processed and marketed by Cambridge, UK-based Phaseolus, which sources beans from all around the world and soaks, cooks and freezes them for use by food manufacturers.
Phaseolus' Sandra Hopper told NutraIngredients.com that she believes Prim Beans will have a good use in foods aimed at people who are more susceptible to digestive problems, in particular children and elderly people.
"I think kids' meals would be perfect," she said. "But it is yet to be proven how far this will push more people into eating beans."
Hooper said that Phaseolus' frozen beans has encouraged more food manufacturers to use beans in their products, and she likes to think that the company is contributing to a resurgence of interest in beans in the UK.
In 2005 Phaseolus' sales were up 40 per cent on the previous year. It currently sells over 600 tonnes of beans to manufactures.
So far, the company has not found a food company that is prepared to market the benefits of Prim Beans, although Get Real, which has just started selling ready-to-cook organic adzuki beans, has expressed an interest in using them for a similar product.
Between 5 and 6 tonnes of Prim Beans are currently grown in Essex each year, but this can be scaled up to meet demand. The first organic crop was announced in November.
But Rebecca Foster, a nutrition scientist for the British Nutrition Foundation, said she is not sure that the flatulence issue is what puts people off beans.
"The more you eat beans, the more your digestive system gets used to them and flatulence becomes less of a problem," she said.
She explained that intestinal gas results from colonic bacterial fermentation of the indigestible oligosaccharides, the carbohydrate in beans, and cited a small study which indicated that although there was no change in the quantity of gas excreted with long-term bean consumption over short-term, individuals reported greater tolerance and less physical discomfort the longer beans were in their diet.
Foster stressed that beans are an excellent source of nutrition since they contain many of the important nutrients we need - that is, fibre, carbohydrates and protein.
"We are fully for the bean," she said.