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.
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 may 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 calledtare”. 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.

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. Natto has a very unique smell, taste and texture. It has a strong pungent smell. 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. 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. 

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 may be the ways to go.

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, you may want to try natto. 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.