- 5 Surprising Health Benefits of Natto
- 1. What Makes Natto So Healthy?
- 2. Decreased Risks of Major Illnesses
- 3. Loaded With Powerful K Vitamins
- 4. Natto’s Nutrients Help to Prevent Blood Clots
- 5. Good for the Skin
- WTF Is Natto—and Should You Try It?
- 1. It keeps your hormones balanced
- 2. It aids in healthy blood circulation
- 3. It strengthens the immune system
- 4. It’s a great source of protein
- 5. It also contains dietary fiber
- 6. It promotes healthy and youthful skin
- 7. It aids in the removal of waste products
- 8. It helps build healthy skin, nails, and hair
- 9. It is essential as a bone strengthener
- 10. It regulates intestinal conditions
- 11. It is helpful in maintaining overall health
- Japanese Food: What Is Natto?
- What is Natto?
- Natto’s Smell
- Natto’s Texture
- How to Prepare and Eat Natto
- How does it taste?
- Natto – A Must-Try, Even If You Are Told Otherwise!
- Natto – What It Is And How It Is Made
- How To Eat Natto
- Health Benefits of Natto
- Taste, Texture and Smell of Natto
- Tips for Enjoying Natto
- In Conclusion
- Recipe: Homemade Natto
- All About Fermenting Soy
- What is nattō?
- Nattō health benefits
- How to make nattō taste good
- Best nattō brand: What does nattō taste like?
- Reader tip: look for Hikiwari style
- Verdict: Will I eat nattō again?
- The Correct Way to Eat Natto, the Delicious Japanese Superfood
- Types of Natto
- How to Consume Natto
- How to Take Off the Clear Film
- Toppings for Natto
- What Is Natto?
- Health Benefits
- Nutrition Facts
- Natto vs. Tempeh vs. Miso vs. GMO Soy
- Natto vs. Nattokinase
- Where to Find and How to Use Natto
- How to Make Natto (+ Recipes)
- Risks and Side Effects
5 Surprising Health Benefits of Natto
Fermented soybeans, also referred to as natto, are a traditional Japanese dish and an ingredient in many others. Natto is also quite nutritious and imparts a great deal of health benefits that make it as beneficial to your health as it is tasty.
Soybeans are a versatile ingredient, used to make a variety of different foods prevalent in both Japanese and Western cuisine. These include soy sauce, miso, tofu and quite a few products and food items you probably haven’t heard of before.
Physicians across the globe recommend only eating soybeans when they are fermented. This is because fermented soybeans, also known as natto in Japanese culture, are healthiest and also aid in digestion. While fermented soybeans become many of the products and ingredients mentioned above, they are also widely consumed as a main dish for breakfast in Japan.
As a matter of fact, the Japanese consume approximately 7.5 billion packets of natto per year. The large amount of health benefits contained in natto make it a superfood, and it likely contributes to the longevity of Japan’s residents.
1. What Makes Natto So Healthy?
For starters, any foods that have been fermented are quite healthy, as they contain ample probiotics. Essential for your health, probiotics also aid in digestion and enable your body to better absorb essential nutrients.
A particular healthy probiotic called Bacillus subtilis 1 is used as the fermenting agent in natto. Along with the probiotics, it also contains a large variety of nutrients, vitamins, enzymes and amino acids that help to lower the risks of many diseases and improve overall health and longevity.
2. Decreased Risks of Major Illnesses
According to the World Health Organization, Japan’s residents are at a lower risk of heart disease, breast and colon cancers, osteoporosis, and blood clots. This is likely a direct result of the Japanese diet, of which natto is a major part of.
3. Loaded With Powerful K Vitamins
Vitamin K1 is easy to find in many leafy green vegetables such as spinach. However, another important K vitamin, Vitamin K2 is not as easy to find. Natto happens to have an abundance of K2, which delivers a wide range of health benefits.
K2 stays in the body longer than K1 and helps to improve bone health and density. K2 also helps with the absorption of calcium, also essential for good bone health.
4. Natto’s Nutrients Help to Prevent Blood Clots
The nutrients, enzymes and amino acids in natto help to break up existing clots, prevent new clots from forming, and improve blood circulation. In fact, natto could be a better blood thinner than the expensive blood thinners, with no side effects and long-lasting benefit.
Vitamin K1 also contributes to Natto’s blood-thinning properties, along with the enzymes pyrazine and nattokinase. Together, these form a powerhouse combination that also helps reduce the risk of fibromyalgia, macular degeneration, chronic fatigue and senility.
5. Good for the Skin
As a great source of a little-known vitamin known as pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ), natto also helps to maintain healthy, smooth skin.
Natto, and fermented foods in general, can often be an acquired taste. But you can plainly see the benefit in consuming it often. Eating it cold is the best, and if you aren’t too keen on the flavor, try mixing it with something else like vegetables. You can also add condiments such as mustard, mayonnaise or vinegar to natto. The fermented soybeans can be easily found at Asian supermarkets and many health food establishments and groceries.
WTF Is Natto—and Should You Try It?
If someone put a big bowl of gooey natto in front of you, your first thought would probably be “WTF is that?” To be honest, one look (and smell) of natto can make you feel like you just received a mystery ingredient on Chopped. But if you can get past the aroma and texture of this fermented soybean, you’ll likely be pleased with the savory umami flavor and the wide array of health benefits provided by this Japanese delicacy.
If you’re still stuck in the “I’m not eating anything slimy” state of mind, maybe learning more about natto will convince you otherwise.
Natto is fermented soybean that is commonly eaten for breakfast in Japan. More specifically, natto is the result of combining a soybean with beneficial bacteria and letting it ferment for an extended period, which is how other fermented foods with healthy bacteria are created. The fermentation process not only preserves the soybean, but it also creates a sticky and somewhat slimy and earthy-flavored food. Each batch of natto can taste slightly different due to the slight differences in the fermentation process, but the overarching flavor is similar to cottage cheese, foie gras, or liver.
People in many Asian cultures eat much less meat than Americans, so they turn to soy products for protein. With about 17 grams of protein per 1/2 cup of natto, it’s no wonder that they start their day with this protein-packed food. But that’s not the only nutritious value to natto. “Because natto is a fermented food, it contains bacillus subtilis, a microorganism that may boost good bacteria in your gut,” says Christy Brissette, M.S., R.D., president of 80 Twenty Nutrition. It also offers plenty of fiber, and it’s high in bone-building vitamin K2, adds Brissette. “Lastly, natto also has the potential to prevent blood clots that can cause heart attacks and strokes,” she says. (Related: Why You Should Add Fermented Foods to Your Diet)
Now that we’ve convinced you to try it (we hope), here are some tips for how to actually eat natto. First, head to your local Asian specialty store to pick up this treat. Traditionally, it’s enjoyed with steamed rice or spicy Japanese mustard, but if you’re thrown off by eating it essentially alone, it can easily be mixed into other foods so you can’t detect the slickness, says Brissette. It’s fantastic in miso soup, and it can be used in pasta dishes and sushi as a tasty condiment, she says. Since it has the same umami flavor of soy sauce or tempeh, it can also be used in dishes where you would find those ingredients. (Discover some delicious vegan tempeh recipes to get you cooking.) Before adding it to something else, we dare you to try a spoonful alone. Who knows-maybe you’ll become a natto aficionado.
- By Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD @NutritionalaNat
Natto is a staple food that many people in Japan eat. It is a type of fermented soybean, and is unique for its stickiness, smell, and flavor. The natto yeast added to soybeans for fermentation causes the beans to become sticky and produce strings of natto with a pungent smell and strong flavor. These may seem off-putting to first timers, but it’s key to many health benefits. Here are 11 among the many reasons you should start eating it today.
1. It keeps your hormones balanced
Photo courtesy of @iarah_tequila on Instagram
A substance called isoflavones in soybeans helps in the regulation of hormone release by acting like the female hormone estrogen.
2. It aids in healthy blood circulation
Photo courtesy of @okanotv on Instagram
Lecithin in soybeans prevents cholesterol from building up on blood vessel walls. It also increases the “good” cholesterol, HDL (high density lipoprotein).
3. It strengthens the immune system
Photo courtesy of @melissa808 on Instagram
Saponin is an important ingredient for white blood cells that make up your immune system to be active, allowing the immune system to be stronger.
4. It’s a great source of protein
Photo courtesy of @yucca0108 on Instagram
Soybeans are rich in protein and contain 18 out of the 20 total amino acids that make up the protein in our bodies.
5. It also contains dietary fiber
Photo courtesy of @mark_mnb on Instagram
Dietary fiber aids bowel movements by stimulating intestinal walls and increasing counts of good intestinal bacteria.
6. It promotes healthy and youthful skin
Photo courtesy of @ssszzk.119 on Instagram
Natto has lots of Vitamin E which helps balance water and oil in skin cells and improves overall skin conditions. It also eliminates active oxygen radicals which can damage skin cells.
7. It aids in the removal of waste products
Photo courtesy of @yoshimi02 on Instagram
Polyglutamic acid in soybeans protects the stomach lining and enables the removal of toxic substances from the body.
8. It helps build healthy skin, nails, and hair
Photo courtesy of @natsumeo on Instagram
Vitamin B2 found in natto is needed for the regeneration of cells, allowing for the growth of healthy skin, hair and nails.
9. It is essential as a bone strengthener
Photo courtesy of @mjcakes on Instagram
Soybeans contain Vitamin K which strengthens bones by assisting in bone formation and also preventing calcium from being leached from bones.
10. It regulates intestinal conditions
Photo courtesy of @i_am_mahopon on Instagram
Natto yeast acidifies the intestinal environment, optimizing it for good intestinal bacteria.
11. It is helpful in maintaining overall health
Photo courtesy of @shoko728 on Instagram
Natto yeast restricts the activity of bacteria and viruses, therefore it prevents colds and allows people to get the necessary nutrition and physical strength.
There are so many ways to eat natto. You can eat it as is, or add it to different recipes and dishes you might already frequently make. I personally eat it with a little dashi sauce, mustard and some mayo. I challenge you to give it a try and to come up with your favorite way to eat it. Who knows, maybe you’ll end up becoming obsessed!
Japanese Food: What Is Natto?
Quite frankly, Japan has some of the strangest foods I’ve ever eaten in my life. I never thought I’d be snacking on raw fish on regular basis, or eating fish eyeballs (no…I’m not kidding this time…I’ll have to post the video someday soon), or craving eel. Despite how strange some of the foods can be, Japan also has some delectable dishes as well: ramen, udon, soba, unadon, shabu shabu, yaki niku, yakitori, takoyaki…get the idea? In my opinion, the good Japanese foods far outnumber the bad ones. However, there are some special cases, some foods that lurk in that gray area, foods that straddle that all too fine line between pleasant and putrid. One food that instantly comes to mind, is natto (なっとう）
What is Natto?
Simply put, natto is fermented soybeans. Fermentation is the process of changing a carbohydrate to an alcohol or acid. Usually this is done with a bacteria or with yeast. In the case of natto it’s Bacilus Subtilis bacteria. Sounds tasty, right?
Natto is quite common here in east Japan, but I hear that natto doesn’t have the same popularity in west Japan. Many people eat these fermented soybeans as a part of a Japanese Style Breakfast, which may include fish, miso soup, rice, and tofu. I also understand that at some preschool, kindergarten, and early-elementary school children eat natto as a snack. I’m not sure that would go over so well with children in America.
When you go into your local grocery story, usually near the tofu area, natto is neatly stored in these small, white styrofoam containers. There are smaller sized natto soybeans (the most common type) and the larger ones (which I don’t like all that much).
Natto’s smell is very…unique. Some of the foreigners I work with have explained the smell of natto as old cheese, old socks, hot garbage, etc. To me, the smell lies somewhere between cheese and old socks; it’s not the most pleasant of smells.
Another quality that makes natto so unappealing to most foreigners, is the texture. Natto is slippery and sticky at the same time. After mixing it, you end up with gooey, stringy, fermented, soybean goodness.
How to Prepare and Eat Natto
Some natto packages usually include a special congealed, sauce to add flavor. Other containers include soy sauce and strong mustard. You add this sauce (or mustard & soy sauce) the soybeans and mix it well until you get a very sticky, stringy mixture. You can then eat it as it is, serve it over rice, or eat it with toast (a student suggestion that I actually liked).
How does it taste?
Hmmm…it’s hard to put natto’s taste into words, but I’ll try my best. It’s the heartiness of beans coupled with a savory flavor, a hint of salt (not overly so), and a hint of barbecue (depending on the kind you get).
Many foreigners avoid natto like the plague. I believe that it’s more of the texture and smell that gets people more so than the taste. When it comes to natto, there are three types of people; either 1) you love it, 2) you hate it, or 3) it grows on you. I am definitely a number three person, so I eat it quite regularly. I can assure you, you’ll figure which type you are soon after having your first natto exprience.
Natto – A Must-Try, Even If You Are Told Otherwise!
One of the most popular breakfast dishes in Japan is natto (fermented beans). Even the Japanese chain restaurant have “Natto teishoku” (natto set meals) as a breakfast menu.
Have you ever tried natto? If not, let’s find out more about this dish – what it is made of, how to eat it and how does it taste. Many visitors from overseas tend to avoid natto due to its sticky texture and pungent smell, but once you know its benefits and try it more than once, you will definitely start to like it.
Natto – What It Is And How It Is Made
Natto is basically fermented soybeans. The beans are brought to fermentation by a bacteria called Bacillus subtilis and then aged for about a week. In the process of fermentation, the carbohydrates turn into alcohol or acid. Usually this is done with bacteria or with yeast. In the case of natto, Bacillus subtilis is the bacteria which is used.
There are two types of beans – small beans and large ones. The larger the beans, the less sticky they will get when you mix them, making them the best type for beginners. Additionally, there is a dish called “hikiwari”. This is natto made from soybeans that are crushed before the fermentation process begins. This creates more surface area for the bacteria to grab onto, making this natto the stickiest and strongest tasting of them all.
How To Eat Natto
Inside a typical pack of natto there is a small pack of spicy mustard and a pack of sweet soy sauce called “tare”. The best way to eat natto is to mix it up a bit first, adding the topping of your choice, mixing some more to get it good and slimy, and then slide it all out on top of some rice.
You can also eat natto with condiments such as kimchi, raw egg, soy sauce, and thinly sliced green onions, myoga (Japanese ginger), grated daikon (radish), bonito flakes or nori seaweed. It can also be placed on cold tofu, making a dish called “hiyayakko”, or eaten with other sticky foods such as Chinese yam, mekabu (flower part of wakame seaweed) or okra (ladies’ finger).
In Hokkaido natto is eaten by adding sugar, while in Fukushima it is sometimes eaten with pickled Chinese cabbage. Chopped natto can be added to soba, udon, Japanese curry, okonomiyaki, and tempura as well. Natto can be therefore enjoyed in many ways, including on toast, too. Tasting natto can become quite an amusing and unique experience!
Health Benefits of Natto
Japan is one of the countries with the highest life expectancy and many credit natto for this fact. People whose regular diet includes natto are said to have reduced bone loss and an enhanced liver function. They also get a good dose of protein. If you want to have beautiful skin, a healthy heart and strong bones, it is high time you try the vitamin-rich natto! It also aids digestion and increases the body’s ability to absorb nutrients. It is a great source of probiotics and is low in calories. It goes without saying that natto enhances the inner and outer health.
One of the benefits of natto is its richness in both Vitamin K1 and K2, which reduce blood clots. With its great effects on the health and strength of skin, heart and bones, natto is really sounds nutritious!
Taste, Texture and Smell of Natto
While fermented foods and drinks all have an acquired taste, natto may take more time to get used to than cultured vegetables or probiotic liquids. Its taste is definitely worth acquiring! Natto has a very unique smell, taste and texture. It has a strong pungent smell, somewhat like old cheese or old socks. Along with the smell it has a sticky, gooey texture which may not be appealing to many visitors from abroad.
Trying natto for the first time can be a big task. However, though the smell and texture may put you off, the taste of natto is really good! It tastes best when eaten with hot rice, a tinge of soy sauce and chopped green onions.
Natto is really a micronutrient powerhouse. In addition to vitamin K, natto contains significant amounts of Vitamins C and B, as well as B6 and B12. Moreover, it also contains minerals such as Calcium, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Zinc, and even Iron. Each 100g of natto contains 8.6 mg of iron. So don’t hesitate to try this tasty and nutritious dish when visiting Japan!
Tips for Enjoying Natto
In Japan, natto is commonly served as a topping to rice. We recommend, however, to try adding plenty of vegetables, mustard (made with apple cider vinegar), wheat free tamari, scallions and, if you like it, a little wasabi. Kimchi and natto is also a good combination, while okra enhances the flavor of natto. For first-timers, eating natto with rice, karaage (fried chicken) and mayonnaise can be a great treat!
Learn More about “Karaage”, the Japanese Take on Fried Chicken
Even if you have experienced soy allergies, natto may not bother you. The fermentation process breaks down the difficult-to-digest proteins, rendering them unrecognizable as a problem food to your immune system!
If smell is the problem, add a spoon of sesame oil, which will gives the dish a wonderful aroma. Also, if you are not so much into slimy things, mix the natto less before adding condiments, by doing so it will be less sticky and gooey.
If you are adventurous enough to experiment and try unusual foods, give natto a shot! You may even end up loving it as many of the Japanese locals do. This nutritious meal will bring amazing health benefits if eaten regularly. Moreover, you can find natto in any convenience store and supermarket in Japan at a low cost. If you try, do tell us how was your first natto dish!
Recipe: Homemade Natto
- Wash the soybeans and soak for 9 to 12 hours (longer soaking time recommended during colder months). Be sure to use approximately 3 parts water and 1 part soybeans to allow for expansion. You will end up with 8 to 12 cups of beans.
- Drain the beans from the soaking water. Place beans in a large pot, fill with water and boil for 9 hours.
- Drain the cooked beans and place in a sterilized pot. Dissolve one special spoonful of natto spores into 2 teaspoons of sterilized water.
- While the beans are still warm, pour the natto spore solution over the beans. Stir the beans and water mixture together carefully using a sterilized spoon.
- Place a thin layer of beans in each of the 3 to 4 containers. If at any point during the process some beans are spilled on the counter, etc., discard the spilled beans as they can contaminate the other beans if added back in to the batch.
- Place the sterilized cheese cloth over the top of the containers and place the tight-fitting lid over the cheese cloth. Preheat the oven or a dehydrator to 100°F. See our article on Incubating Tempeh for more incubation ideas.
- Place the covered containers in the oven, dehydrator, or warmer and allow the natto to ferment for 22 to 24 hours being sure to keep the temperature steady at 100°F.
- At the conclusion of the fermentation period, let the natto cool for a couple of hours, then remove the lid and the cloth, replace the lid, and store the containers in the refrigerator at least overnight. The Natto can be consumed as early as the next morning and are often served as a Japanese-style breakfast. Natto can also be aged in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.
Humans have been consuming fermented foods for more than 10,000 years. Fermentation is the oldest known form of food biotechnology and provides a means for producing safe and well preserved foods. Records of barley conversion to beer date back more than 5,000 years. The traditional fermentation process serves several functions, including the enrichment of food substrates biologically with protein, essential amino acids, essential fatty acids, vitamins, polyamines, carbohydrates, and numerous antioxidants and phytosterols, and increases the quantity, availability, digestibility and assimilation of nutrients in the body.
In Asia, where soy has been a dietary staple for thousands of years, the traditional fermented soy foods are considered to have more health promoting benefits than the super-processed soy products that are consumed in the West. This is due to its broader nutrient profile and high bioavailability. It is believed that the inclusion of a moderate amount of fermented soy products in the traditional diet of Asian populations play an important role in overall disease prevention and enhancement of well-being. On the other hand, consumption of soy products in the United States and Western Europe has been a relatively new phenomenon and limited to the 20th century. For example, the average intake of soy protein in Southeast Asia ranges from 10-50g per day in contrast to 1-3g per day consumed by Americans (Barnes et al., 1995).
The fermentation process in soy removes trypsin inhibitors found on the coating of soy that interfere with the absorption of nutritive compounds. It is increasingly recognized that cultured soy products such as miso, natto, tempeh, fermented bean curd, soy sauces, fermented soy milk and beverages have enhanced nutritive bioavailability while promoting heart and bone health, and alleviating menopausal symptoms. Fermenting or culturing soy has also been shown to enhance the bioavailability of iron and copper and to render these nutrients in their most beneficial forms. These products should not be confused with uncultured soy such as tofu, soymilk, soynuts, etc and soy protein isolates which have potentially anti-nutritive value due to their high phytic and oxalic acid levels, and can block the absorption of vital nutrients such as calcium.
The fermentation process is also thought to convert the isoflavone precursors genistin and daidzin to their active isoflavone forms, genistein, and daidzein. It is unfortunate that in the Untied States health conscious consumers are urged by media and consumer reports to consume soy or soy protein isolates which are not the way in which soy is traditionally consumed in Japan. The overwhelming majority of soy consumed in Asian countries, such as Japan, China, Korea, and Indonesia is in its cultured or probiotic form enhanced with genistein and daidzein. Japanese researchers found that the cultured broth of Saccharomyces cerevisiae or Brewers Yeast, produced both in vivo and in-vitro experiements, bio-antimutagenic and anticlastogenic activity with mutagen formation reduced by 47% just by the administration of the cultured broth. A study of the culturing method involved in the production of the Japanese traditional food, miso, concluded that the cultured soy medium had thus produced its own unique anti-carcinogenic activity by strongly inhibiting formation of cellular mutations.
Stenotrophomonas maltophilia, used to ferment the soy in JIVA, contains a high percentage of branched-chain fatty acids (c.f., U.S. Pat. No.7,070,965). Other bacterial genera containing high percentage branched-chain fatty acids are: Xanthomonas, Flavobacterium, Capnocytophga, Altermonas, Cytooophage, Bacillus, Chryseobacterium, Empdobacter, Aurebacterium Sphinggobaacterium, Staphylococcus, Azobacter and Pseudomonas. These bacteria, and others that may contain a high percentage of branched chain fatty acids, are microorganisms that may be considered for fermentation of soybeans. For example, Azotobacter vinelandii is a diazotroph described in U.S. Patent 4,877,739 that can fix nitrogen while grown aerobically. It is a genetically tractable system that is used to study nitrogen fixation. These bacteria are easily cultured and grown. It is a free-living N2 fixer which is known to produce many phytohormones and vitamins in the soil (Order Pseudomonadles).
The World Health Organization reported in 2000 that the Japanese with their extensive consumption of cultured soy products, such as miso and natto, together with accompanying food like ginger, ocean herbs, and green tea, have the longest and healthiest life expectancy of any other people on Earth. Americans on the other hand do not even appear on the top 20 of the WHO list of life expectancy. The Western diet has undue emphasis on the consumption of smart products that are processed or genetically modified.
Unfortunately, the abandonment by consumers in developing countries of their more traditional fermented foods in exchange for the sophisticated Western dietary products could have serious consequences. For example, the replacement of indigenous fermented cereal drinks with cola beverages that have empty calories could have a serious impact on the daily nutrition of many of these consumers in developing countries when the extensive medical benefits of consuming the traditional sources of probiotic whole-food nutrition is lost.
A Japanese study found that the level of genistein, a chemopreventive agent, in the fermented soybean products was higher than in soybeans and soybean products such as soymilk and tofu. This study along with others have postulated that the beta-glycosyl bond of genistin is cleaved to produce genistein by microbes during fermentation to yield miso and natto. On the basis of these data for average annual consumption of soybeans and related products, daily intake of genistein and genistin by the Japanese was calculated to be 1.5-4.1 and 6.3 -8.3 mg/person, respectively. These levels are much higher than those of Americans or Western Europeans.
There is now considerable evidence for a variety of health benefits associated with consuming cultured whole soy protein. Although researchers have not always been able to identify all of the responsible components in soy, epidemiological data and both in-vitro and in vivo studies provide evidence that the benefits of consuming specially fermented soy protein inhibits cardiovascular disease, and alleviates menopausal symptoms and osteoporosis.
Soybeans are a rich source of essential amino acids, which are vital in maintaining a health body. Boiling and fermenting soybeans with bacillus natto significantly increases their nutritional value, and among the many traditional fermented foods of Japan, natto tops the list in health benefits. The unique enzyme in Natto, Nattokinase, is reported to be beneficial. This is supported by researches conducted not only in Japan but all over the world.
Natto, is a natural energy food that is:
- High in Protein
- Good Source of Dietary Fiber
- Rich in Vitamin K2 & B2
- Contains Calcium & Iron
- Gluten Free
- Contains No Preservatives
In Japan, we often add chopped long onion to natto and eat it with rice. The Japanese diet is known to lack protein, which natto supplements, and the long onion adds Vitamin C to the Vitamin C-less natto—a natural “wisdom of life” reflected in the food culture of Japan.
*Note: Natto contains Vitamin K2, which promotes blood coagulation, and therefore heart disease patients should consult their physicians before consuming natto.
All About Fermenting Soy
Miso is a thick paste made by fermenting soybeans with a kojibacteria. Most people know miso as a main ingredient in dashi and miso soups. It can also be used to pickle vegetables and meats or as a flavorful ingredient in sauces and salad dressings.
It is high in protein, vitamins, and minerals making it a well-loved food by even the poorest of Japanese during the age of feudal Japan.
Tempeh is a soybean product in which whole soybeans are fermented with specific type of fungus and pressed into a cake-like form similar to what you would see in a vegetarian bean burger. Tempeh is a popular meat substitute as the fermentation gives it meat-like nutritional and textural properties.
Tempeh originated in Indonesia and is still very popular among the Indonesian population. It is often sliced and fried, battered and fried, roasted, grilled, or crumbled to make something like a taco meat.
Soy Sauce, a fermented soy product very familiar to Americans, is fermented with the aspergillus bacteria. It is made by boiling a paste of soy beans and a grain with this bacteria and then pressing it to produce a liquid which is the sauce.
Soy sauce is often used as a condiment to season rice dishes in Asia, especially in China where it originated.
Natto is a traditional staple of the Japanese diet fermented with theMitoku natto spores and is often eaten at breakfast. It is very high in protein, vitamins, and minerals, especially vitamin K.
Natto is definitely an acquired taste, though, as it has a strong flavor and odor and a bit of a stringy texture. But its highly nutritious nature makes it quite popular still in areas of Japan and around the world.
It’s nattō time at Gene Food, folks. After all, nattō is a staple for our Okinawan dieters, so we have to practice what we preach.
“It looks like glue with bugs in it,” my best friend said when I told her that John had assigned me to eat nattō for breakfast for three days and write about my experience.
I wasn’t familiar with nattō, so I didn’t know if I should be scared or not. It has a reputation for being unpleasant — not a lot of people like the smell or taste. I can get down with some funky, stinky stuff, like kimchi, and I love a lot of Asian food. So how bad could this Japanese staple be?
Sometimes eating things that are really good for you requires dealing with a taste that isn’t exactly fantastic. Other times, you get lucky and discover something that’s easy to add to your daily routine. Stick around to find out which category these bacteria beans fall under.
What is nattō?
Nattō is the superfood of Japan. One microbiologist calls it one of the “most potent sources of healthful bacteria there is.” It’s made from soybeans fermented with Bacillus subtilis var. natto. Some people will eat it for breakfast along with some rice, scallions, and maybe an egg. When you buy it at an Asian market, it typically comes in frozen, single-serve styrofoam packs, with soy sauce, mustard, or other flavor packets included.
Sometimes nattō is used in other foods, like sushi, miso soup, and Japanese omelettes called tamagoyaki. A quick Google search will even lead to results for nattō bruschetta and spaghetti. Although it is frequently eaten in Japan, not all Japanese people love nattō — it’s more popular in eastern Japan than western Japan, for example.
Nattō health benefits
Craig Anderson, star of documentary “Miso Hungry,” swapped out his normal diet of burgers and pizza for traditional Japanese food, including eating a bowl of nattō on rice every day for breakfast for 12 weeks. He also drank nothing but green tea and water, and with minimal exercise, he lost over 50 pounds, lowered his insulin and liver enzyme levels, and cut his risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Anderson’s diet contained a variety of fermented foods each day, but the byproduct of nattō fermentation, the enzyme nattokinase, may have had a big effect on his results. Nattokinase has been shown to reduce blood pressure, while our typical Western diet and lifestyle is associated with higher blood pressure and cardiovascular risk.1 One study also showed that habitual intake of nattō among elderly men was associated with improved bone health, mainly because of the vitamin K content.2
In another study of rats who were fed nattō powder for four weeks, the benefits of nattokinase in addition to the other compounds in nattō suggested improved blood circulation.3
Aside from nattokinase, nattō also is nutrient-packed: 100 grams contains a variety of amino acids, vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin B6, and plenty of fiber.4 Pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ), a mitochondrial enhancer, also is found in nattō. Check out a recent blog post John wrote about PQQ supplements and his experience: “I took 10mg of PQQ: here’s what happened.”
How to make nattō taste good
Before we get into our taste test, we need to know the proper way to prepare nattō for consumption. We mentioned the traditional way to eat nattō is over rice, but if you’re just eating it on its own, you need to know what to do with your little frozen styrofoam packs!
First, you’ll want to defrost your nattō. You can take out however many containers you think you’ll eat within a week and pop them in the refrigerator. Do this the night before, so you have nattō ready for breakfast the next morning. Then, you’ll pop your containers open. The nattō will be lightly sealed with an easy-to-remove plastic cover, and on top of that will generally be your mix-ins. This can be soy sauce, mustard, and more.
Prepare yourself for the waft of aged-cheese smell that’ll hit your face as soon as you lift back the cover on your beans. Nattō looks like it’s covered in goop — that’s the bacteria, and it’ll get even goopier once you begin to stir. Stirring is key to “activating,” and the debate is on regarding how much you should stir nattō. The more you stir, the more sticky and goopy it becomes. I stirred mine 15 times, but some connoisseurs stir theirs … wait for it … a whopping 424 times.
There’s something to be said for a quick breakfast, but if you don’t take all that time to stir, nattō is a pretty cheap, nutrient-packed meal at $2 to $3 for a frozen three-pack.
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Best nattō brand: What does nattō taste like?
OK! We’re ready. Finally. While doing my research on the proper preparation methods, I took a look at people stirring nattō on YouTube and came across a goldmine of fun videos. Nattō is so popular for people to try or dare others to try, there’s even been nattō eating challenges. I didn’t videotape myself, so just take my word for it. These reactions are real.
Here are three frozen nattō brands I tried.
Pretty smelly, cheesy-stank, with a stringy texture. This was my first try of nattō, and not my favorite. I stirred this one a bit too much because I didn’t know what I was doing, it formed more bubbles, and the stringy goop broke down a bit. The beans themselves taste fine, but the bacteria goop is … an acquired taste. It’s certainly not like eating yogurt.
I’ll admit, it took me a while to get past the flavor and smell. I may have rolled around on my couch for a few minutes and whined to my boyfriend, who likes nattō, then reluctantly gone back to the kitchen. The packets of sauce that came with Umainen brand were soy sauce and mustard, which is traditional.
The taste (and smell) lingered with me until lunch.
This particular brand came with kelp, which actually looked pretty cool once mixed in with the nattō. It was almost as if there was an additional science experiment going on in my breakfast. Little green bits in clear goo floating around in my creamy bean goop. Mmm.
But really, I liked the taste of the kelp. I think maybe the soy sauce and mustard just didn’t cut the flavor of the nattō enough in the Umainen brand. This version reminded me more of the seaweed salad I like to eat occasionally with sushi, and I could picture myself making a breakfast bowl out of Kabuto’s nattō with kelp.
Finally, this brand seemed a bit lighter than the others. The biggest mystery was what exactly was in this one. The ingredients in English list a variety of stuff in the sauce packet, including radish, sugar, vinegar, mushroom extract, and skipjack tuna extract. But it completely tastes like pineapple.
The smell of the sauce plus nattō actually turns this into a pretty welcoming (by comparison) dish! The radish sauce made the beans a lot sweeter, which I wasn’t sure I’d like, and really covered up a lot of the funk. These I could more easily eat. Azuma also definitely had the most sauce to drench the beans out of all brands.
It was like a funky fruit cocktail, if you closed your eyes and dreamed!
Reader tip: look for Hikiwari style
Reader Alan writes:
I’ve been eating nattō for 10 years. It took many, many tries befits I could eat it, but after watching my wife and kids eat it with relish and knowing how healthy it is, I had to do it.
There are many brands, all with different tastes. The main differences in flavor come from two things: what type of sauce comes with it and the size of the beans.
If you want a tip on how to eat it, the Hikiwari style is cut into very small pieces and is *much* easier to eat. As for flavors, there is one called “shiso” which is a tangy leaf.
Stir it vigorously until you get a slight gooey foam and eat it. Let’s not fetishize nattō with connoisseur treatment: try different brands until you find one you can tolerate and then eat it; you will come to enjoy it. It’s a low calorie, filling snack or part of a meal and the health benefits are unparalleled.
Again, my best tip: look for “hikiwari” style.
Verdict: Will I eat nattō again?
When I saw some of the nattō challenges, I thought that it must be similar to a bitter, wormwood-based liqueur produced in Chicago called Jeppson’s Malört. I’m from Chicago originally, and Malört is one of those drinks you get visitors to try who have never been to the city. A bit of a rite of passage, if you will. It elicits reactions similar to nattō — “baby diapers” was a phrase a friend used after I made a Malört tasting the “trick” during a Halloween party I hosted years ago. Cocktails featuring Malört, when you find something to balance out the bitter flavor, are actually pretty great.
Could nattō be the same?
After trying it three times, nattō feels like Japan’s Malört. Much like my first taste of Malört, I wanted nothing to do with it ever again at first. The taste burned in my brain for hours afterward. I could smell the nattō on my hands when I took breaks from typing on my computer for work, but I swore that my chopsticks didn’t touch my hands and I didn’t handle the beans directly. Was it seeping through my skin?
Then, on to tries two and three. The kelp was second, and much more palatable than the first. Then, the final nattō, with that weird fruity flavor that blocked out most of the funk, was actually decent. I felt like nattō was growing on me. How is this possible?
I guess, like some things in life, nattō truly is an acquired taste. After only three tries of it, I could actually see myself using the rest of the nattō in my freezer instead of just staring at the space it was taking up months down the road. Perhaps I’ll try it in a breakfast bowl this weekend, or spread it on a baked sweet potato.
Or maybe with a side of Malört?
The Correct Way to Eat Natto, the Delicious Japanese Superfood
Below, you’ll find text and images that explain everything. The explanation includes points that aren’t in the video, so please read through it!
Natto is a fermented food made by fermenting soybeans using bacteria called “Bacillus subtilis”.
According to the oldest tale surrounding its creation, it was thought up somewhere around the 10th century BC and the middle of the 3rd century AD. It is believed that it started getting sold as a product in the Edo period (1603 – 1868), eventually becoming a standard part of the Japanese breakfast.
Today, you can buy 3 packs of natto for approximately 100 yen at places like supermarkets or convenience stores in Japan. It is extremely popular as a healthy delicacy, possessing plenty of Vitamin K, soy protein, and dietary fiber. Since it is a fermented food, it does give off a special smell that comes from the bacteria, which people clearly either like or dislike.
Types of Natto
There are several types of natto, which are distinguished by the soybeans’ size, variety, processing method, etc.
From the left, you have natto with different-sized soy beans: Large-type, medium-type, and small-type.
There’s even natto that’s been put into a cup to make it easier to eat!
On another note, there’s another type of natto called “hikiwari natto” that’s quite famous. It is created by pulverizing the soybeans prior to fermenting them.
How to Consume Natto
First, open up the package and take out both the special sauce and Japanese mustard packs.
Tear off the clear film that’s on top of the natto.
Mix the natto thoroughly.
People say that it tastes better if mixed well enough to become sticky.
Add in the special sauce and Japanese mustard.
Mix it all together again.
Eat it together with rice. It also tastes good if you eat it by itself!
How to Take Off the Clear Film
Natto is extremely gooey and sticky, so if you aren’t careful, your hands will quickly get dirty while taking off the clear film. To prevent that, we’ll be teaching you some methods for taking the clear film off without dirtying your hands!
Open the package and grab the clear film.
Move your hand in circles, gathering the strings of natto.
Lay it on the package’s lid.
Open the package.
Slide the film until it protrudes out from one side of the container.
Close the lid, and then pull the film out.
Super Secret Method
Prepare disposable wooden chopsticks (not yet split) and open the package.
Stab the chopsticks into the film.
Twist them around to remove the film.
Toppings for Natto
If you don’t like the smell of natto, it is recommended to top it with something. Not only does adding various ingredients or seasonings make it taste better, but this can also slightly mellow out the unique smell of natto.
Standard toppings include (from the left of the above picture) green onions, katsuobushi (sliced dried bonito), kimchi, and raw eggs.
Japanese people add either the whole raw egg or only the yolk, but for people from countries where consuming raw eggs isn’t a normal occurrence, trying this with a sunny-side up egg might be a good start.
There are many other ingredients that go well with natto. For example, try it with ingredients like wasabi, cheese, mayonnaise, nori (seaweed), perilla leaves, or umeboshi (pickled plums). Pepper or tuna go great with natto, too!
Another common way to eat natto is by adding your chosen ingredients and then mixing it well with soy sauce instead of the special sauce or Japanese mustard that comes with the package! Find the toppings that suit you and try eating natto the right way – it’s sure to taste delicious!
Surprisingly, natto goes well with not just rice, but also bread and pasta. Challenge yourself by giving it a try!
There’s a lot of controversy around soy and soy-based products like natto. With all the contradictory claims out there from researchers and health experts alike, it’s no wonder that many people are left scratching their heads on whether soy helps or harms your health.
The answer is: It depends. Marketing geniuses have posited soy as the wonder health alternative to virtually everything. In most supermarkets, you’ll find soy milk, soy protein, soybean oil, soy lecithin and even soy soap. Unfortunately, though, many forms of soy are not necessarily as healthy as food manufacturers would like you to believe.
The problem is the soy you see in all these foods is not the traditionally grown crop of Japan. In fact, the majority of soy that you find in in grocery stores is actually genetically modified (GMO), produced in a different way and doesn’t yield the same nutritional benefits.
However, when you ferment soybeans you have a completely different product that boasts an entirely separate set of nutrients, which is why when it comes to soy, the safest and best way to consume it is through fermented foods like miso, tempeh or natto. So what is natto, and how can it impact your health? Let’s dig in.
What Is Natto?
Natto is a traditional food usually consumed at Japanese breakfast tables together with miso soup, fish and rice. Tofu, tempeh, miso and natto are all whole food forms of soybean. However, unlike many other soy foods, natto is fermented, which accounts for many of its health-promoting properties. It is made by soaking whole soybeans, then steaming or boiling them, and afterward adding the bacteria Bacillus subtilis to the mixture. It is then allowed to ferment over time.
Natto is known to be a rather acquired taste, probably due to its unique smell and texture. So what does natto taste like? It has a distinct, bitter flavor, and for many people, the ammonia smell may evoke a mixture of old socks and cheese. As for the texture, it resembles a gooey, stringy and sticky small bean, which also adds to its unappealing nature.
People typically have strong feelings toward natto — they tend to either love it, hate it or eat it until it grows on them. The taste of natto is actually not that bad; it’s the unpleasant smell and stringy texture that can be surprising and unfamiliar to most western taste buds and palates. If you can tolerate it, however, it’s packed with powerful nutrients that can make a serious impact on your overall health.
1. Rich in Vitamin K
One of the main reasons that natto is so good for you is because it is rich in vitamin K. In fact, the Department of Public Health reports that it contains 100 times more vitamin K2 than cheese! (1)
Vitamin K2 is important because, according to the National Institutes of Health, it’s considered a key component in maintaining the bone mineral density of postmenopausal women suffering from osteoporosis. (2) This is especially good news for vegetarians and vegans because natto is one of the few plant-based sources of vitamin K2.
Having a higher intake of vitamin K2 is associated with lower risk of heart disease, artery calcification and death. (3) Vitamin K2 also supports bone health by increasing bone mass and slowing bone loss that occurs over time. (4)
2. Contains Nattokinase
During the fermentation process, soy becomes more easily digested and absorbed, which is especially good news for those who normally suffer gut issues when eating legumes. One reason natto doesn’t trigger gastrointestinal discomfort like other forms of soy is because of the enzyme nattokinase. Created during the fermentation process, nattokinase is used for a variety of medicinal purposes, including: (5)
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Chest pain
- Deep vein thrombosis
- Varicose veins
- Poor circulation
- Peripheral artery disease
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Muscle spasms
- Uterine fibroids
3. Packed with Probiotics
Another key to natto’s health benefits is its rich content of probiotics. Bacillus subtilis (also referred to as Bacillus uniflagellatus, Bacillus globigii and Bacillus natto) is the bacteria added to soybeans that is then left to ferment in order to create natto. It helps synthesize enzymes, which are used to reduce blood clotting and produces vitamin K and B vitamins. (6, 7) At one point in its history, it was even used as a broad-spectrum antibiotic.
Research reveals that supplemental Bacillus subtilis improves symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, supports a healthy microbiome and helps protect against inflammation. (8, 9) In general, though, the major benefit of fermented foods like natto is that they support overall health and immunity to reduce your risk of disease and keep your body in tip-top shape. (10)
4. Promotes Bone Health
Natto is loaded with several important micronutrients that play an important part in bone health. Calcium, for example, is one of the main structural components of bone tissue and absolutely essential to preventing bone loss throughout the life span. (11) Vitamin K is also crucial to bone health, with studies showing that a deficiency of this key vitamin can increase the risk of bone abnormalities like osteoporosis and fractures. (12) Manganese, zinc and copper are just a few other minerals that are plentiful in natto and important when it comes to maintaining bone density. (13)
5. Enhances Digestive Health
Filling up on probiotic foods like natto can help balance the bacteria in your gut to optimize the health of your digestive system. Research shows that disruptions in this delicate gut microbiome can have serious consequences ranging from digestive issues to increased allergy severity and beyond. (14) Getting plenty of probiotics from food or supplement sources has been shown to be beneficial in the treatment of diarrhea, ulcerative colitis and irritable bowel syndrome, among other issues. (15, 16, 17)
6. Keeps Your Heart Healthy
Topping the charts as one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet, it should come as no surprise that squeezing a serving or two of natto into your diet can have a big impact on the health of your heart. With over nine grams of fiber packed into each cup, it may help lower cholesterol levels to prevent plaque buildup in the arteries. (18) It’s also high in vitamin K2, which has been linked to a reduced risk of arterial calcification and coronary heart disease.
Plus, studies even show that consumption of nattokinase, the main enzyme found in natto, has been associated with lower blood pressure and decreased blood clotting. Keeping your blood pressure under control can help ease the stress on your arteries and keep your heart muscle healthy and strong. (19)
While natto’s appearance may not leave a very good first impression, its nutrition profile makes it well worth giving it a chance. It is as an excellent source of protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals. Additionally, the Bacillus subtilis in natto creates an enzyme called nattokinase, which aids in the production of vitamin K2 and helps preserve heart health.
Rich in macronutrients and micronutrients, natto is fantastically nutritious, which is why people who regularly consume it experience a wide array of health benefits. It’s the very definition of a “superfood” and contains huge amounts of beneficial nutrients in every serving.
One cup (about 175 grams) of natto contains approximately: (20)
- 371 calories
- 25.1 grams carbohydrates
- 31 grams protein
- 19.3 grams fat
- 9.4 grams dietary fiber
- 2.7 milligrams manganese (134 percent DV)
- 15.1 milligrams iron (84 percent DV)
- 1.2 milligrams copper (58 percent DV)
- 40.4 micrograms vitamin K (51 percent DV)
- 201 milligrams magnesium (50 percent DV)
- 380 milligrams calcium (38 percent DV)
- 22.8 milligrams vitamin C (38 percent DV)
- 1,276 milligrams potassium (36 percent DV)
- 5.3 milligrams zinc (35 percent DV)
- 15.4 micrograms selenium (22 percent DV)
- 0.3 milligram riboflavin (20 percent DV)
- 0.3 milligram thiamine (19 percent DV)
- 0.2 milligram vitamin B6 (11 percent DV)
In addition to the nutrients listed above, natto also contains a small amount of folate, pantothenic acid and sodium as well.
Natto vs. Tempeh vs. Miso vs. GMO Soy
Although natto can be made with black beans, adzuki beans, kidney beans and even sunflower seeds, the bacteria used to make it thrives best on soybeans, which help produce nattokinase more efficiently. It is important to note that nattokinase is not found in other non-fermented soy foods, which makes the distinction between natto and unfermented, genetically modified soy very clear.
With that said, while fermented soybeans are a packed powerhouse of goodness, other soy products are packed powerhouses of health risks. For the most part, unfermented soy is full of:
- Phytates — known to contribute to micronutrient deficiencies, such iron, zinc and calcium (21)
- Trypsin inhibitors — disrupt healthy digestion and can cause pancreatic disorders (22)
- Goitrogens — thyroid hormone blockers that may be tied to impaired thyroid function (23)
- Phytoestrogens — compounds that alter normal estrogen production and may be linked to breast cancer (24)
- Aluminum — known to contribute to Alzheimer’s disease and dementia (25)
- Genetically modified ingredients — more than 90 percent of soybeans grown in the U.S. are genetically modified
Unfortunately when it comes to GMOs, long-term health risks are still unknown. There are reports that genetically modified soybeans may impact formation of life-threatening food allergies, cause liver damage, disrupt fertility and alter fetal/childhood development. One human study on consumption of genetically modified soybeans found that the modified genes for herbicide resistance actually transferred into the digestive tracts of participants and continued to function after the beans were digested. (26) On the other hand, though, some reports find that animal testing on GMOs in food only occasionally reveal dangers to health. (27)
Regardless, when eating soy, it’s best to stick to fermented varieties like natto, tempeh and miso. Not only do these probiotic foods contain a lower amount of antinutrients and other harmful compounds, but they are also higher in beneficial bacteria for your gut and contain a long list of potential health benefits.
Natto vs. Nattokinase
Nattokinase is an enzyme that is isolated from natto and credited with supplying many of its potent health benefits. In particular, nattokinase has been shown to help prevent blood clots, promote blood flow and improve heart health. It’s also been shown to be useful in the treatment of conditions like high blood pressure, stroke, atherosclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease. (28)
Although plenty of other fermented soy foods boast a long list of health benefits, natto is the only soy product that contains nattokinase. Additionally, while nattokinase is also available in supplement form to help you get in your daily dose, adding natto to your diet instead can provide a burst of added nutrients and probiotics as well as a hearty chunk of nattokinase in each and every serving.
Where to Find and How to Use Natto
Wondering where to buy natto and how you can add it to your diet? Thanks to its growing popularity, it is now available at many natural food stores and specialty shops. You can also buy it online to have it delivered directly to your door.
Once you get your hands on this powerful superfood, there are plenty of ways to take advantage of the unique natto taste and nutrient profile. Try making a traditional Japanese natto breakfast by combining it with rice and pickled veggies. Alternatively, you can make a natto roll using your favorite sushi ingredients to give the nutritional profile of your roll a major upgrade. It also works well with miso soup, fish and whatever vegetables you have on hand.
How to Make Natto (+ Recipes)
Natto can easily be purchased and added to your favorite recipes and dishes. However, if you’re feeling up to the challenge, you can also try making it on your own at home.
Most recipes involve washing and soaking the soybeans for nine to 12 hours, draining them and then boiling for an additional nine hours. The soybeans should then be combined with a natto spore solution and placed into thin layers separated by a cheesecloth. In a closed container, the natto should then be placed in a dehydrator or oven set to 100 degrees Fahrenheit and allowed to ferment for 22–24 hours. Once the final product is ready, it can be stored in the refrigerator or freezer to extend its shelf-life even longer.
If you’re looking for new ways for how to eat natto, there are plenty of natto recipe options available. Here are a few unique ways to add this superfood into your diet:
- Natto, Brown Rice and Avocado
- Natto Breakfast Bowl
- Vegan Natto & Cucumber Sushi Rolls
- Japanese Style Omelette
Although its true origins remains a mystery, there are many different theories about the creation of the natto food product. Some say that it was discovered when the Japanese samurai clan Minamoto no Yoshiie was attacked while boiling soybeans to feed their horses. They quickly packed the soybeans into straw bags and did not open them until several days later, at which point the soybeans had fermented to form natto. Meanwhile, others believe that it was developed in several different locations around Japan as the ingredients have all been widely available since ancient times.
In the early 1900s, researchers discovered that the starter culture used to make natto could be produced without the use of straw. This changed the way that it was produced and made it much easier for food manufacturers to begin commercial production of natto, increasing its popularity and making it possible to enjoy all around the globe.
Risks and Side Effects
For most people, natto can be safely consumed with minimal risk of side effects. However, more research is still needed on the effects of nattokinase in supplement form as the potential long-term side effects of this supplement still remain unclear.
Because natto contains a specific type of vitamin K2, known as MK-7, it might interfere with blood-thinning drugs like warfarin when consumed in high amounts. (29) For this reason, you should check with your doctor before adding this fermented soy to your diet if you’re currently taking any blood thinners.
Additionally, natto is relatively high in calories, with around 371 calories packed into a single one-cup serving. It’s also loaded with protein, which can contribute to a slew of health conditions like kidney stones and bone loss when consumed in excess. For this reason, it’s important to keep your intake in moderation and pair it with other nutritious whole foods to avoid unintentional weight gain and other adverse side effects.
When it is all said and done, however, the positive health benefits far outweigh any risks associated with eating natto. Just keep things balanced, incorporate a wide variety of other foods into your diet, and swap it in for genetically modified and unfermented soy products in your diet.
- What is natto? Produced from boiled soybeans that have undergone fermentation, it is a Japanese staple that is chock-full of powerful health benefits.
- A few of the most impressive natto benefits include improvements in bone health, digestion and heart health. It is also high in protein, fiber and probiotics, as well as important micronutrients like manganese, iron, copper and vitamin K.
- Natto stands out from other soy products because it is fermented, which increases its digestibility and helps your body absorb it better. It also contains nattokinase, a key enzyme that protects against blood clots and comes with a long list of health benefits.
- For best results, try adding natto to your favorite rice and veggie dishes to squeeze more nutrients into your day and enjoy the multitude of health benefits that it has to offer.
Read Next: What Is Tofu? 8 Reasons to Not Eat This ‘Healthy’ Vegan Product
If you’ve ever taken an interest in unique Japanese foods, chances are you’ve stumbled upon natto (納豆), the fermented soybean dish with the distinct (and strong) smell, the sticky, stringy texture and its deep, beany flavor. It’s likely what you’ve heard about this Japanese dish is either exceedingly positive or all bad, as this food seems to be either loved or hated by many. Even among people living in Japan, many people from eastern Japan could eat natto for every meal, while those from western Japan may refuse to touch it. However, if you like it upon first taste or take the advice of others to “keep eating, it grows on you,” you’ll be able to enjoy the delicious, complex flavor of natto as well as the many health benefits contained in fermented foods.
There are many varying dates cited as to when natto was first made; while so many different dates float around, it’s generally agreed that natto has been around for a Very Long Time, given anywhere from China’s Zhou dynasty (1134-246 BCE) to Japan’s Jomon period (10,000-300 BCE) or even Japan’s Yayoi period (300 BCE to AD 300.) Though varied in the idea of when natto was created, most theories agree that it was probably by accident. These “accidental” theories usually claim that boiled soybeans were left to dry on a straw mat or, while being cooked, some soybeans spilled over onto a straw mat, where they began to ferment due to the rice straw’s high ability to grow Bacillus natto, a healthy bacteria used specifically in the fermentation of natto. When natto was first eaten, it was usually made by farmers for their own consumption, but in the Edo period (1603-1868) as popularity grew, natto vendors began selling natto around town. In these early days, the bacterium used to cultivate natto only grew readily in the fall and winter months, but as times changed and scientists gained a better understanding of the bacterium, people were able to eat natto year-round.
When you buy pre-packaged natto, you usually get a styrofoam container filled with natto, and many varieties come with one or two sauce packets as well. If you buy frozen natto (which is made fresh in Japan and then frozen in order to export to the United States), you first need to thaw it in the refrigerator and eat it immediately afterwards. Don’t just dig right into your natto, though; the next step is the most important step to get your natto to the perfect consistency. Stir your natto for about 60 seconds, upon which you’ll see that your natto has become stringy and sticky, which is just how you want it. If your natto came with sauce packets (usually soy sauce and a hot mustard), this is when you’ll want to empty those into this delicious, sticky mixture. Enjoy your natto alongside a bowl of rice for a truly authentic flavor. Many people also mix their natto into spaghetti sauce, curry, and even put it on sandwiches. Natto is also commonly used in sushi for natto maki (納豆巻), a sushi roll consisting of only seaweed, rice, and natto.
When you buy natto, you’re usually not going to get plain beans in a package; they almost always come with a packet of sauce (usually a soy sauce or something similar) and often they come with a packet of spicy mustard (natto with regular mustard can also be found). Along with the different sauces, there can be any number of different foods mixed into the natto, such as daikon radish and wasabi; if you have some fresh naganegi (ながねぎ), spring onions in English, or negi (ねぎ), scallions in English, natto tastes even more delicious when you chop them up and mix them in. You can also add shredded fresh shiso leaf and mix them in for a great minty-basil, fresh flavor. There are even different varieties based on the beans used: there’s a black bean natto and hikiwari natto (ひきわりなっと), a type of natto made with roasted, split soybeans.
When it comes to eating healthy, natto is a great piece to add to your diet as it mixes the health benefits of soybeans with those found in many fermented foods. Natto even has it’s own special enzyme, called Nattokinase, that’s been found to be uniquely beneficial according to studies from all over the world. Natto, being made from soybeans, is high in protein, fiber, calcium, iron, and vitamins K2, which is great for promoting healthy blood clotting and strengthening bones, as well as vitamin B2. While the vitamin K2 helps healthy blood clotting, the Nattokinase has been shown to break down unneeded blood clots, which is good for helping to prevent heart attacks. Vitamin K2 is also known as the “anti-wrinkle vitamin,” making natto a good food to eat for your skin’s health! Vitamin B2, also called riboflavin, is a very helpful vitamin when it comes to energy and metabolism; it helps greatly in the process the body goes through to change fat into energy. It also helps your blood absorb some of the iron from your daily diet.
Making natto is actually fairly easy to make at home as long as you have the time and space to make the amount you want, the base ingredients (which can be bought at Asahi), and a natto starter. The natto starter is actually the easiest thing to get; as long as you have a pre-made natto (bought fresh or frozen), you have your starter! To start making your natto, first take your soybeans, or daizu (大豆) in Japanese, and put them in a container with some water–a good ratio is one volume of daizu to two~three volumes of water. Make sure you put your beans in a container that’s large enough to hold them once they’ve absorbed all of the water you add. Let your daizu soak overnight and when you wake up, you’ll find that the individual beans have enlarged and become oblong in shape.
From here, you’ll want to steam your daizu; any type of method will work, but the slower you can steam them the better, as you want to try to let them steam for up to three hours, otherwise they may not be open to fermentation. After this point, you want to make sure that all the containers you use to make your natto have been cleaned properly, preferably boiled in hot water, in order to kill any sort of bacteria that may be lurking on them; fermented foods are more susceptible to growing molds or bacteria with which they may come in contact. Use a large, shallow vessel–metal is best as it has less places for bacteria to hide in–and spread your soaked and steamed daizu along the bottom. (This is the point where the natto smell begins to make itself known, so be sure to pick your location carefully!)
This will be where your natto starter comes in. Drop a few beans of your pre-made natto into about 100mL of water (use a good mineral water to better control what additives do and don’t go into your natto). Stir the water and bean mixture around a few times until your water starts to gain a cloudy appearance, and then you have your starter! Pour this mixture into your steamed daizu, making sure to cover the beans evenly, then cover the whole container with plastic wrap, poking holes in the top to allow for proper ventilation. Tap the plastic wrap with your fingers lightly, just to ensure that it is in contact with the top of the beans, but don’t press down and destroy the beans shape.
At this point you want to make sure your natto stays a pretty constant temperature of anywhere between 86 and 104 degrees Fahrenheit (that’s 30-40 Celsius). There are a few tricks to making sure your natto stays at the proper heat such as putting a hot water bottle beside the container and covering both with a blanket or even using a heated blanket over the container. Let your natto ferment for around 20 hours, checking the temperature periodically to make sure it’s staying within the range. When you’re finished, pull off your plastic wrap and you should see that your beans have become covered with a whitish filament. Don’t be alarmed, since this is exactly what you want and shows that everything has gone well and you’ve made your very own natto!
If you’re feeling adventurous and want to try some of this unique food for yourself or you want to take advantage of natto’s many health benefits, you can stop by Asahi any time for a wide selection of frozen natto. You’ll also find MegumiNatto brand’s fresh, never frozen, natto so you can experience the full beany flavor. You can buy some soybeans and even use any of the natto you buy as a starter if you want to try your hand at making your own natto!
So, do you love or hate natto? Ever get someone else to eat natto just to see the look on their face? Are there any unique natto recipes that you love eating? Let everyone know your favorite way to enjoy natto in the comments!
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