Written by Nupur Jena
Natto – How To Eat And Enjoy The Health Benefits Of Fermented Soybeans
Natto is a favorite dish for breakfast in Japan. To those who are not used to eating natto on a daily basis, it can be quite a challenge to try it! This article explains what natto is, what are the health benefits it brings, and how to enjoy it!
One of the most popular breakfast dishes in Japan is natto (fermented beans). Even Japanese chain restaurants have “Natto teishoku” (natto meal sets) 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 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
1. Open the Pack
Look for the arrow at the corner of the pack. Open the lid where the arrow is pointing to.
2. Tear Off the Film
After opening the lid, you will find a plastic film on the top of the natto. This film is not edible, so please remove it. The natto is sticky and will adhere to the film, so please take it off carefully.
3. Add Sauce and Mustard
Natto sold in the markets comes with sauce and mustard. Open the small packets and put as much as you want on the top of natto.
Since the packets are very small, be careful that you don't squeeze them out forcefully.
There are people who prefer to add sauce and mustard after step four. The natto will taste different depending on the timing you add in these condiments. We suggest trying both to find which method you prefer.
4. Mix the Natto Thoroughly
Mixing the soybeans is the final step left before you can enjoy the natto.
First, insert your pair of chopsticks in the middle of the pack and try to mix the beans gently in order to loosen the hard natto.
When the texture of natto looks like it has softened, add more force and mix in a circular movement for up to fifty times. Please be careful not to spill natto out of the pack!
As you continue to mix, the natto will become white. This is normal. When you lift the natto up and it resembles the above picture, it's ready to eat!
If you mix the natto further, it will become more white in color and softer. If you choose to add sauce and mustard in now, we recommend mixing it in for around 10 times If you mix the condiments in too hastily, though, you may make a mess.
You can eat the natto directly after the mixing is done. For new flavors, add in 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 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 very 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!
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 the smell is the problem, add a spoon of sesame oil, which will give the dish a wonderful aroma. Also, if you are not so much into slimy things, mix the natto less before adding condiments: doing so will result in less sticky and gooey natto.
Enjoy Japan's Sticky Fermented Soybeans
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!