Onions contain the same inulin polysaccharide found in beans but their flatulent properties can be exacerbated by the irritating effect they can have on the bowel. The great Victorian explorer Richard Burton (1821-1890) knew this. One of his scholarly footnotes in the 1885 translation of The Arabian Nights observes that the wild onion of Tibet, ‘the only procurable green-stuff, produces an odour so rank and fetid that men run away from their own crepitations.’
The Arabian Nights is full of flatulent mishaps. In The Father of Farts, a mistreated wife’s scheme to take revenge on her husband begins with the serving of a hugely flatulent meal.
That morning the girl prepared a dish consisting of beans, peas, white haricots, cabbage, lentils, onions, cloves of garlic, various heavy grains and powdered spices. The qadi’s enormous belly was quite empty when he returned for the midday meal, so he took helping after helping of this mixture, until all was finished…
The qadi congratulated himself, as he had so often done before, on the excellent choice of a wife; but an hour afterwards his belly began visibly to swell. A noise as of a far-off tempest made itself heard inside him. Low grumblings and far thunders shook the walls of his being and brought in their train sharp colics, spasms, and a final agony. He grew yellow in the face and began to roll groaning about the floor, holding his belly in his two hands.
“Allah, Allah!” he cried. “I have a terrible storm within! Who will deliver me?”
Soon his paunch became as tight as a gourd, and his cries brought his wife running. She made him swallow a powder of anise and fennel, which was soon to have its effect, and, at the same time, to console and encourage him, began rubbing and patting the afflicted part, as if he had been a little sick child…
Then his pains increased, and he fell howling to the floor in a crisis of agony. Suddenly came relief. A long and thunderous fart broke from him, shaking the foundations of the house and throwing its utterer violently forward, so that he swooned. Then followed a multitude of other escapes, gradually diminishing in sound but rolling and re-echoing through the troubled air. Last came a single deafening explosion, and all was still.
(Edward Powys Mathers – The Book of the Thousand Nights and One Night 1923)