Jacob’s Cattle Gasless

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Radcliffe Pike, along with his brothers Sumner and Alger Pike, knew that their family baking bean had been grown for generations, producing superior beans in Maine’s most easterly town of Lubec. However delicious the beans, the variety was not known to be a heavy yielder. Radcliffe, a professor at the University of New Hampshire, had some plant breeding experience and the hopes of commercializing this great tasting old family bean. Radcliffe and his brothers started a home plant breeding experiment in the 1950s by crossing their ‘Jacob’s Cattle’ with the high-yielding ‘Black Mexican Soup Bean’. After a few years of selection, the family produced a ‘Jacob’s Cattle’ bean that reached maturity in Lubec with improved yield. It wasn’t until some years later that the bean’s “gasless” characteristic was discovered. Newspaper articles from the 1966 release of this variety stated that the Pike’s realized the beans were gasless after a young family member with digestive issues ate some of the beans without harm. It is true: beans cause flatulence. Beans contain several sugars, stachyose, raffinose and verbascose that the human stomach cannot digest. When these sugars get to the intestines, intestinal bacteria ferment them causing gas and stomach pain. Varieties that have fewer of these sugars and thus do not induce this unsavory condition, are often called gasless. Whether or not this ‘Jacob’s Cattle’ is truly less gaseous than other varieties remains to be tested, but it makes an interesting story.