There are few Japanese foods more ubiquitously strange than natto.
Natto is a traditional Japanese food made of fermented soybeans that are prepackaged in small styrofoam containers, served with tare (a sauce), and perhaps some karashi (spicy mustard).
Enjoyed by many Japanese people as a breakfast staple, natto can be purchased at any supermarket or convenience store and can range in price from the utilitarian to the high priced artisanal.
Natto is characterized by its sticky and stringy texture, pungent odor and acquired taste. People who've tried it usually harbor one of two feelings: they either love it or hate it.
How to Enjoy Natto
Natto must first be stirred (there is debate as to how many times: 424 or no more than fifteen) to create an extremely sticky and stringy texture known in Japanese as "neba-neba". However, if you can get past the slime and pungent aroma, natto is actually rather mild in flavor, described as being nutty and even having some hints of coffee.
There are a variety of ways that natto can be enjoyed. While some prefer it straight from the styrofoam container, others enjoy it heaped atop a steaming bowl of rice, sometimes with a fresh orange egg yolk cracked over the top with a sprinkling of negi (green onions). Natto even finds its way into sushi rolls (nattomaki) and into soups (nattojiru.)
Other Forms of Natto
Along with the traditional wet, stringy version, a dry version of natto also exists. In order to make this variation, the fermented soybeans are either sun-dried, freeze-dried, or fried at low temperatures in order to preserve the natto bacterial cultures. While the sun-dried and freeze-dried methods remove the moisture and smell, the aroma and sticky texture still reactivate when eaten. On the other hand, the slow frying method results in a crispy snack that just might be a good gateway into the world of natto.
Natto is considered to be incredibly nutritious with a history as a health food dating back to the Edo Era. Full of probiotics from the fermentation process, it not only makes the beans more digestible, but it also promotes healthy gut bacteria and a strong immune system.
And although the stringy neba-neba texture might be off-putting to some, this is where the heart healthy enzyme nattokinase is most concentrated. Natto is also high in vitamins and minerals including vitamin K2, manganese, iron, calcium, and vitamin C.
We strongly suggest you give the stringy beans a try and if your looking for a mild tasting, unique and savory paste, try our Natto Koji Paste made from domestic "tuskui" soybeans.
About the author:
The spark that lit Kevin Kilcoyne’s interest in Japanese culture began in elementary school through a friendship with his then classmate Keisuke. Since then, that passion has evolved and bloomed to encompass more than just video games and manga, leading Kevin to live in Japan as a participant of the JET program. During his time in Japan, Kevin sought out as many foods as he could, the experiences and taste memories lingering long after they had gone. Now he is forging a path to link his passions for Japanese food, history, and visual culture and is planning for his return to live in Japan once again. For now, you can find Kevin on Instagram (@kevinjkilcoyne) where he posts his illustration work. Keep an eye out for more posts and updates as Kevin delves more deeply into his passions for writing and food.