What is natto? Why is it so healthy? If you're curious about Natto, I've got all the answers in this post! Smell, texture, and appearance…, it's such a unique food, but do you know it's packed with tons of nutrients? Read on!
Natto is a Japanese superfood!
Ready to explore tasty, healthy, and sticky food? Natto is one of the oldest Japanese traditional foods. Made from fermented soybeans, its unique flavor and nutritional benefits make it an important part of Japanese cuisine.
Let's dive into the world of natto and discover from learning what it is to how best to enjoy it; I'll cover everything you need to know. Let's get started!
- This article is for you if:
- You want to know Japanese natto.
- You want to learn how to eat natto.
- You are curious what it tastes like.
- You are looking for easy natto recipes.
What is Natto?
Natto has been a part of the Japanese diet since ancient times; it became popular in the Edo period (around 1700) and was a staple breakfast dish for ordinary Japanese people.
This unique and traditional food is made by fermenting soybeans. Soybeans are transformed into natto by being steamed and then fermented with natto-kin (a type of bacteria). This process produces the special savory taste loved by many.
Natto is a representative of a Japanese superfood with impressive nutritional benefits. Not only does it contain the goodness of soybeans, but through its fermentation process, it also provides digestive enzymes, vitamins, and many more (I will give you more information in the health benefits section).
What does it taste like?
Natto offers an intriguing experience with a slimy, sticky, and gooey texture. The fermentation processes create this unique sensation (don't worry, it's not rotten!).
Natto has a pungent odor, and this distinct smell can be off-putting to some, but it is part of what makes this traditional Japanese food special. Its aroma comes from the ammonia and organic acids that form during fermentation.
If you eat Natto just straight, you might taste it slightly sweet, which is the taste of soybeans and umami (savory) from fermenting.
Natto taste in a nutshell:
- It has a slimy, sticky, and gooey texture
- It has a strong ammonia smell
- It's savory and slightly sweet
I grew up eating Natto, so the smell and the texture don't bother me, but if you try it for the first time, it would be challenging.
If you're curious about its taste, there's only one way to find out - try it! You may love the unique flavor or hate it.
How to eat it
The most common and traditional natto dish is Natto Gohan, and here's how you eat it:
- Open a pack of natto.
- Add a natto sauce (savory and sweet soy sauce) and karashi (Japanese yellow mustard) to the natto and stir (Store-bought natto usually comes with them).
- Prepare a bowl of rice and put natto over it.
- Add some topping (optional), such as green onions.
This natto gohan is a staple breakfast for us. If you stay in a Japanese-style hotel in Japan, most likely, Natto will be on the breakfast menu.
Many topping variations include kimchi, avocado, Japanese pickles, and many more. Some people eat it with a raw egg. (Find the natto gohan recipe here).
There are more ways to eat natto! You can also make an omelet, stir-fried rice, and soup. Click here to find out more Natto dishes.
If you are unsure about the texture and smell, try these tips!
- If you don't like the sticky texture, heating makes it less sticky. Try adding natto to a soup or making stir-fried rice.
- If you don't like the strong smell, adding other smelly food might help. Try adding kimchi, cheese, and something with spices like curry.
Is Natto healthy? (Natto Health Benefits)
Natto may be an acquired taste, but it's a great superfood with plenty of health benefits. With its distinct smell and robust flavor, this food provides a great way to elevate any diet.
Fermentation takes soybean's nutrient-rich content to the next level, providing an even greater boost of health benefits! Let's find out more!
Great source of protein
Natto is rich in high-quality soybean protein. It contains a good balance of the nine essential amino acids we can't produce. Plus, fermentation helps it become more easily absorbed by our bodies, making the protein within much easier to digest than in raw soybeans.
One pack of natto (50g) contains around 7g of protein, equal to about one egg.
Vitamin B2 to maintain your body
Natto contains five times more vitamin B2 than soybeans. It's necessary to keep skin, hair, and nails healthy and to produce the energy the body needs.
Vitamin K for bone health
Natto is a powerhouse of vitamin K – packed with 85 times more than raw soybeans! This vitamin is key to keeping your bones strong and healthy by locking in calcium.
It is also an essential nutrient that helps healthy blood clotting - keeping our wounds safe and promoting fast healing.
By the way, Hikiwari natto (crushed bean natto) contains more vitamin K than whole bean natto as it has more surface area to ferment with natto-kin.
Dietary fiber helps digest
Natto is also rich in dietary fiber, which helps your bowel movement. One pack of natto (50g) contains 3.4g of dietary fiber.
Lecithin to help lower cholesterol levels
Natto is also packed with lecithin, which can help lower cholesterol levels and protect your arteries from damage.
Nattokinase keeps your blood healthy
Natto contains a unique enzyme called nattokinase, which helps break up blood clots, lower blood pressure, and flow smoothly. Eating it daily can help protect against serious vascular diseases (a couple of packs per day).
However, nattokinase doesn't like high temperatures and will be lost when heated above 70C, so if you want the benefit, it is best to eat raw natto (without cooking).
Keep your gut healthy with Natto-kin
Natto-kin (bacillus subtilis natto) is a beneficial bacteria that keep your gut healthy.
When your gut works actively and is healthy, bowel movement is improved, boosts your immune system, and prevents you from getting sick (immune cells are concentrated in your gut).
Gut health is a significant factor in our ability to absorb the nutrients we need. If your gut functions correctly, it will block harmful substances and make digestion easier!
Fortunately, heating natto doesn't kill this natto-kin, so you can cook it and still get the benefit.
How to make it at home
Can I make it at home? It takes time and requires some cooking utensils, but YES, you can!
Here's how it's made:
- Rince soybeans and soak soybeans in water
- Cook soybeans in a pressure cooker
- Spray natto-kin
Types of Natto
You can find many types of Natto in Japan, but I share three different types by bean size in this section.
1. XS and S size
This bean size is the most popular one eaten at home daily. It is close to the rice grain size, making it easy to eat with rice and mix.
2. M and L size
Beans are larger than S size, and they are chewier. You can enjoy the texture and flavor of the fluffy beans.
It's good to eat as it is and suitable for soup.
3. Hikiwari natto (crushed Natto)
Hikiwari natto is made by crushing soybeans, removing the skin, and fermenting.
Fermentation time takes less, so it tastes slightly different from whole beans Natto. It has a soft and smooth texture.
Since there is no skin, dietary fiber is less and easier to digest for small children. Also, it contains more vitamin K than other natto as it has more surface area to ferment with natto-kin.
It's often used for natto maki (sushi rolls).
Wara natto is a traditional method of making natto. Wrapping boiled soybeans in straw creates the perfect environment for making natto. Natto-kin (contained in straw) flourishes and transforms into sticky natto.
Wara natto has a nice aroma from the straw, which regular natto (they are in styrofoam containers) doesn't offer.
Where to buy Natto
If you go to grocery stores or convenience stores in Japan, you can find packs of natto like the picture above. Three packs are together and cost about 100 yen (less than $1). One pack is for one serving which is about 50g.
The most popular brand is okame Natto (the one with a woman's face in the picture above).
You can find it at Asian grocery stores or Japanese supermarkets if you live outside of Japan. You would find it around the tofu section or frozen section.
How to store Natto
The fermentation process continues at room temperature, so storing it in the fridge or freezer is essential.
In general, natto will last for about one week to 10 days in the fridge and one month in the freezer.
When you eat frozen natto, leave it in the fridge for a half-day to thaw before eating. Please do not use a microwave oven as it ruins the taste.
Does Natto go bad?
As long as natto is stored in the fridge, it won't go bad, but the appearance, flavor, and smell will vary.
Even though it's past the expiration date, you can still eat natto (I often do), but be aware that its smell and taste won't be as delicious (foul smell and bitter). It's better to eat within the best-by date.
How to prepare Natto
Let me show you how to prepare Natto. You can also watch this video.
Store-bought natto is typically in styrofoam containers and comes with natto sauce and karashi (Japanese mustard). If not, you can season it with soy sauce.
- Open: Open the natto pack. The natto sauce and karashi mustard are on the top.
- Take the film: Put aside them and take the transparent film on top of the Natto.
- Sauce and karashi: Pour the sauce and karashi over the Natto.
- Stir: Stir with chopsticks until smooth, about 10 to 20 times.
Stir more to increase the umami
Do you know if you stir Natto many times, you can taste umami (savory taste) more?
An article scientifically proves that the umami score will increase if you stir well, and if you add the sauce several times separately, the taste will be better.
The method from the article:
- Stir 400 times
- Add the sauce after stirring
- Add the sauce multiple times (not at once)
I've tried the method, and see the photo below. The left image is stirred 20 times, and the right image is 400 times.
You can see white gooey stuff around the Natto in the right photo. It is more fluffy and soft as it contains more air and tastes better. Also, it's less stringy, so easier to eat.
Stirring 400 times is lots of work, but it is worth trying!
Tasty Natto Recipes
How do you eat natto for beginners?
Natto goes well with carbs such as rice and bread or noodles. You can eat it straight from the package (I often do), but cooking with other ingredients makes for an even better experience.
Let me share my favorite natto recipes! Click here to find out "How To Eat Natto (10 Easy Natto Recipes and 30 more ideas)".
Thanks For Stopping By
Natto is an excellent fermented food and great for your health! Maybe the sticky texture isn't for you, but it's worth trying. I hope this information is helpful!
If you have any questions, please comment in the section below!
Thank you for taking the time to read my blog♡ If you've tried this recipe(or any other recipe on the blog), please give it a star rating below!
Also, feel free to leave comments if you have any questions. I love hearing from you!
Chef JA Cooks is a Japanese food blog that shares healthy and straightforward Japanese home cooking recipes, including vegan and vegetarian. From traditional Japanese recipes to modern recipes with step-by-step instructions.
More Natto Recipes You Might Like
- Natto omlette
- Natto egg toast
- Natto cheese toast
- Natto udon noodle bowl
- Natto sushi roll
- Natto miso soup
- Natto chahan
- Natto gohan
Watch How To Eat Natto (YouTube Playlist)
10 Easy Japanese Natto RecipesPrint Pin Save Saved!
- 1 pack Natto, 50g/1.8oz (use attached sauce and karashi)
- Substitute: If your natto doesn't come with sauce and karashi, you can use soy sauce or make it on your own by mixing soy sauce, dashi (soup stock), and sugar.
- Storage: Keep natto in the fridge or freezer. When eating frozen natto, please leave it in the refrigerator for a half-day to defrost naturally. No microwave oven, as it ruins the taste.
- You can find Natto at Asian grocery stores or Japanese supermarkets. You would find it around the tofu section or frozen section.
- If you are unsure about the taste, stir it as much as possible to increase the umami (savory) flavor.