zenDine Logo

Japanese Natto: The Superfood You're Yet to Discover

15/07/2023 3:00 PM

Dive into the world of Japanese natto, an unassuming soybean product with immense health benefits. This article unveils natto's nutritional secrets, exploring its role in heart health, digestion, and bone strength. Discover this authentic Japanese superfood and unlock the secret to longevity.
natto food


What is natto?

Natto, a staple in Japanese cuisine, is an intriguing superfood made from fermented soybeans. It is produced by fermenting these soybeans with Bacillus subtilis var. natto, a specific strain of bacteria that gives it its unique traits.

The texture can be described as sticky and slimy and the flavor profile strong; it’s no wonder 70% of Japanese people find its taste pleasant! Often enjoyed as morning sustenance served atop rice, this traditional food has deep roots especially in Japan's eastern regions where natto dishes are prevalent.

You'll typically find natto pre-packaged in small polystyrene containers ready for quick preparation and consumption – just another example of Japanese efficiency!

As with many Japanese foods, there's more to Natto than meets the eye - or rather the palate! This power-packed food boasts an impressive nutrient content including carbohydrates, protein, fat plus vitamins B1, B2, B5, B6, B9 C & K along with minerals like calcium and iron to mention but a few making it not only delicious but also incredibly nutritious.

So next time you venture through Japan seeking out local delicacies don’t miss on trying this remarkable 'natto' food!

How is natto made?

making natto

Making natto is a multistep process requiring care and precision:

Start with quality soybeans, usually a small variety specifically grown for natto.

Clean the soybeans to remove any dirt or impurities.

Soak the clean soybeans in water for 12 to 20 hours until they double in size.

Steam or boil the soaked beans until they become soft and fully cooked.

Cool the cooked beans down to about 40°C (104°F).

Sprinkle Bacillus subtilis var. natto on the cooled beans and mix well to ensure each bean is coated with bacteria.

Transfer the inoculated beans into sterilized containers, typically polystyrene ones common in Japan.

Cover them with a breathable material like cheesecloth to allow necessary air circulation while keeping out unwanted contaminants.

Ferment by maintaining them at a stable temperature of around 40°C (104°F) for up to 24 hours.

Once fermentation completes, let the natto cool down at room temperature before transferring it into a refrigerator,

Rest refrigerated for another 24 hours so that flavors can further develop.

What does natto taste like?

Navigating the flavor profile of natto food can be a unique culinary adventure. Most newcomers find its distinctive and robust nature intriguing, to say the least. It boasts a powerful aroma, which some might liken to a pungent cheese or aged wine.

The flavor is equally potent: strong, salty-savory, with an undertone of earthy bitterness that lingers on your palate long after you've taken your last bite.

The most striking aspect about natto’s eating experience lies in its texture—it's sticky, slimy and highly viscous; definitely not for the faint-hearted! With every spoonful comes strands of gossamer-like threads that are testament to its fermentation process.

Interestingly enough though, around 70% of Japanese people savor these very characteristics as delightful dimensions contributing towards enriching their gastronomic journey. For them, it's not just a superfood packed with health benefits; it's comfort food synonymous with home-cooked meals and familial bonds.

Is natto a traditional Japanese food?

Natto is a traditional Japanese food that has been enjoyed for centuries. It is made by fermenting soybeans with a specific strain of bacteria called Bacillus subtilis var. natto, giving it its distinctive taste and texture.

Natto has been a staple in the eastern regions of Japan, especially at breakfast time when it is commonly served with rice. While the origins of natto are uncertain, one theory suggests it was co-developed in multiple locations in ancient Japan.

Interestingly, before natto, China had a similar dish called douchi made from fermented black soybeans. So if you're looking to immerse yourself in authentic Japanese cuisine during your travels, be sure to give natto a try!

Where can I find natto?

If you're a foreign traveler in Japan and curious to try natto, you'll be pleased to know that it's widely available throughout the country. You can find natto in most grocery stores and supermarkets, where it is usually sold in individual or multi-pack containers.

It's also commonly stocked in convenience stores, making it easily accessible for a quick snack or meal option on the go. Additionally, many local markets and specialty food shops will have a selection of natto brands and variations to choose from.

So whether you're exploring Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, or any other city in Japan, finding natto won't be a challenge - just look for the distinct packaging with the words "納豆" (natto) written on it!

Health Benefits of Natto

With all these amazing health benefits packed into one food item, incorporating natto into your meals can be a simple yet effective way to enhance your well-being while experiencing authentic Japanese cuisine during your travels.

What are the health benefits of natto?

healthy natto

Natto, Japan's superfood, offers a range of health benefits that make it worth trying. Here's why:

Rich in nutrients: Natto is packed with essential vitamins like B1, B2, B5, B6, B9, C, and K. It also contains minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, and zinc.

High protein content: Natto is an excellent source of plant-based protein, making it a great choice for vegetarians and vegans.

Probiotic properties: Thanks to its fermentation process using Bacillus subtilis bacteria, natto is considered a probiotic food. It promotes the growth of beneficial gut bacteria and supports a healthy digestive system.

Heart-healthy: Natto contains a natural enzyme called nattokinase that has been known to promote cardiovascular health by supporting healthy blood circulation.

Bone strength: The rich combination of calcium and vitamin K found in natto contributes to bone health and may help prevent conditions like osteoporosis.

Antioxidant power: Natto's high antioxidant content helps protect the body from free radicals that can damage cells and lead to chronic diseases.

Promotes weight management: With its low-calorie density and high protein content, natto can help you feel full longer while maintaining a balanced diet.

Supports immune function: Natto's nutrient profile boosts immune function by providing essential vitamins and minerals necessary for optimal health.

Anti-inflammatory properties: Some studies suggest that natto's components may have anti-inflammatory effects that can help reduce inflammation in the body.

Brain health boost: The presence of vitamin K in natto has been linked to improved cognitive function and brain health over time.

Is natto a probiotic?

Natto is indeed considered a probiotic food. Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are beneficial for our digestive system. Natto contains a specific strain of bacteria called Bacillus subtilis var.

natto, which is responsible for the fermentation process and gives natto its unique characteristics.

When consumed, these beneficial bacteria promote a healthy gut environment by aiding in digestion and supporting the growth of good bacteria in our intestines. Studies have shown that regularly consuming probiotics like those found in natto can help improve overall gut health, boost the immune system, and even alleviate certain gastrointestinal issues.

So if you're looking to incorporate more probiotics into your diet while exploring Japan, give natto a try! Its distinctive flavor may take some getting used to, but the potential health benefits make it worth considering as part of a balanced diet during your travels.

How does natto contribute to a healthy diet?

Natto is not only a delicious and unique food, but it also offers numerous health benefits that make it a valuable addition to any diet. This traditional Japanese fermented superfood is packed with nutrients that can support your overall well-being.

With its high protein content, natto helps build and repair tissues in your body, making it beneficial for muscle growth and maintenance. It also contains vitamins like B2, B6, and K2, which are essential for energy production, brain function, and strong bones.

One of the standout health benefits of natto is its probiotic properties. During the fermentation process, beneficial bacteria called Bacillus subtilis thrive in the soybeans used to make natto.

These probiotics promote gut health by improving digestion and absorption of nutrients while supporting a healthy balance of gut flora. Additionally, natto's rich fiber content aids in regulating digestion and preventing constipation.

Another impressive aspect of natto is its favorable impact on cardiovascular health. Research shows that consuming natto regularly may help lower cholesterol levels due to its high concentration of compounds called isoflavones.

These compounds have been linked to reducing LDL (bad) cholesterol levels while increasing HDL (good) cholesterol levels.

Including natto in your diet can be a wise choice if you're looking for an authentic culinary experience combined with powerful health benefits. So go ahead and try this nutrient-dense superfood; your taste buds and body will thank you!

Does natto contain any specific nutrients?

Natto is not just a flavorful Japanese delicacy, but it is also packed with specific nutrients that can benefit your health. This fermented soybean dish is rich in carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats, providing you with sustained energy throughout the day.

Additionally, natto contains various vitamins such as B1, B2, B5, B6, B9, C, and K that support essential bodily functions. When it comes to minerals, natto doesn't disappoint either.

It is a good source of calcium for strong bones and teeth and contains iron for healthy blood circulation. Moreover,.

natto provides magnesium for nerve function and muscle relaxation while offering manganese for antioxidant defense. Potassium is another mineral found in natto that helps regulate heart rhythm and fluid balance in the body.

These are just some of the specific nutrients you can enjoy when savoring this traditional Japanese superfood. So why not give it a try during your visit to Japan?.

Can natto help improve digestion?

Natto, the fermented soybean powerhouse, is not only a tasty treat but also offers potential benefits for digestion. Packed with enzymes and probiotics, natto can promote a healthy gut environment.

The fermentation process of natto breaks down complex carbohydrates and proteins into more easily digestible forms, aiding in nutrient absorption. Additionally, the beneficial bacteria found in natto can help support a balanced microbiome and improve overall digestive health.

So next time you're enjoying this traditional Japanese delicacy, know that you're not only savoring its unique flavor but also potentially giving your digestive system a boost.

Preparation and Consumption of Natto

preparing natto

To enjoy natto, there are several ways to prepare and consume this unique Japanese superfood. Natto is typically eaten cold and often paired with steamed rice, making it a popular breakfast dish in Japan.

To prepare natto at home, simply open the package and mix it well to create those signature sticky strings. Then, you can add soy sauce or other condiments like karashi mustard for an extra kick of flavor.

Don't forget to serve it alongside a bowl of hot rice for that perfect combination.

If you're looking to incorporate natto into your meals beyond breakfast, there are plenty of options. You can use it as a topping for sushi rolls or add it to miso soup for added texture and flavor.

Natto also pairs well with tamagoyaki (Japanese omelet), salad, okonomiyaki (savory pancake), and chahan (fried rice). The versatility of natto allows you to experiment with different recipes and discover your favorite way to enjoy this nutritious food.

Remember, though the smell and texture of natto may take some getting used to, many people find its unique taste quite pleasant. So don't be afraid to give it a try! With its rich nutrient content and centuries-old tradition in Japanese cuisine, natto is truly a superfood worth discovering during your travels in Japan.

How can I prepare natto at home?

Purchase fresh natto from a local supermarket or specialty store in Japan.

Open the package of natto and transfer it to a bowl.

Gently mix the natto with chopsticks or a spoon to create a sticky consistency.

Optional: Add soy sauce, karashi mustard, or other desired seasonings to enhance the flavor.

Cook a serving of steamed rice to accompany the natto.

Place the natto on top of the rice or mix it together, depending on personal preference.

Enjoy your homemade natto and rice dish as a nutritious and satisfying meal.

Please note that natto can be an acquired taste due to its unique texture and aroma. If you're unsure about trying it for the first time, consider starting with small portions or incorporating it into dishes where its flavor can be balanced with other ingredients. Experimenting with different combinations and flavors can help you find your preferred way of enjoying this traditional Japanese superfood.

Natto Rice Bowl: Mix natto with steamed white rice and add toppings like sliced green onions, nori seaweed, and a drizzle of soy sauce.

Natto Omelette: Beat eggs and mix in natto. Cook the mixture in a frying pan to make a delicious natto omelette.

Natto Okonomiyaki: Incorporate natto into the batter for this savory Japanese pancake. Top it with shredded cabbage, bacon, and your favorite okonomiyaki sauce.

Natto Miso Soup: Add natto to miso soup for an extra boost of flavor and texture. Simply stir it into the soup before serving.

Natto Sushi Rolls: Wrap natto in sushi rice and seaweed to create unique sushi rolls. Add other fillings like cucumber or avocado for added freshness.

Natto Salad: Toss natto with mixed greens, cherry tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, and your choice of dressing for a healthy and flavorful salad option.

That's it! These popular natto recipes are sure to give you a taste of Japan's unique flavors. Enjoy experimenting with this traditional superfood!

What are different ways to enjoy natto?

natto in dishes

Mix natto with soy sauce and rice for a classic Japanese breakfast.

Pair natto with steamed vegetables such as broccoli or spinach for a nutritious side dish.

Use natto as a topping for sushi rolls or nigiri for an added twist of flavor and texture.

Incorporate natto into your homemade miso soup for an extra boost of protein.

Try adding natto to your stir - fried dishes like yakisoba or fried rice to enhance the umami flavors.

Create a unique salad by mixing natto with fresh greens, cherry tomatoes, and your favorite dressing.

Make a flavorful natto omelet by combining whisked eggs and natto before cooking them together in a pan.

Experiment with fusion cuisine by using natto as a filling for tacos, wraps, or even quesadillas.

Add some spice to your natto by mixing it with kimchi or adding a dash of chili oil.

Snack on dried or fried natto as a crunchy alternative to the traditional sticky version.

[NB: To cater more effectively to foreign travelers in Japan, I would include simple tips such as "Ask for recommendations at local restaurants" or "Explore specialty food markets for unique natto-inspired dishes."]

Are there any traditional Japanese dishes that use natto?

Traditional Japanese cuisine incorporates natto into various delicious dishes. One popular way to enjoy natto is by adding it to sushi rolls, where the creamy and savory flavor of natto pairs perfectly with other ingredients like fresh seafood and vegetables.

Natto is also commonly used as a topping for steamed rice or mixed into miso soup, providing an umami-rich taste that complements the overall flavors of these traditional dishes. Additionally, you can find natto in tamagoyaki (Japanese omelet), salad dressings, okonomiyaki (savory pancake), and chahan (fried rice) for added texture and flavor.

With its versatility, natto adds a unique twist to these beloved Japanese recipes while offering the numerous health benefits it's known for.

Can I store natto for a longer period?

Storing natto for a longer period is possible, but there are a few things to keep in mind. Once you open the container, it's best to consume the natto within a few days as its texture and flavor can change over time.

If you have unopened containers of natto, they can be stored in the refrigerator for several weeks before their expiration date.

To extend the shelf life of your natto, you can also freeze it. Simply transfer small portions into freezer-safe containers or bags and store them in the freezer for up to three months.

When you're ready to eat it, thaw the frozen natto in the refrigerator overnight.

It's important to note that while storing methods may help preserve natto's freshness, its strong aroma and sticky texture will remain unchanged. So if you're planning on traveling or have limited access to refrigeration, trying dried or fried natto could be alternatives worth exploring!

The Acquired Taste of Natto

Natto is not your average dish. In fact, it's known for its unique and acquired taste that may take some getting used to, especially for those unfamiliar with Japanese cuisine. The powerful smell, strong flavor, and sticky, slimy texture of natto can be quite overwhelming at first.

However, it's important to note that despite its initial challenges, natto has gained popularity over the years. Surprisingly, a survey found that 70% of Japanese people actually enjoy the taste of natto! This fermented soybean delicacy is often eaten cold with rice and can be mixed with soy sauce or karashi mustard to enhance its flavor profile.

While the distinct characteristics of natto may require an open mind and adventurous palate to fully appreciate it, many foreigners visiting Japan end up falling in love with this one-of-a-kind superfood experience.

Why is natto considered an acquired taste?

Natto is often considered an acquired taste due to its unique characteristics. Firstly, it has a powerful smell that can be quite pungent and distinctive. The fermentation process of natto produces compounds like diacetyl and pyrazines, which contribute to its strong aroma.

Additionally, natto has a sticky, slimy texture that some people find off-putting. It can be compared to the consistency of melted cheese or soft-boiled eggs. Lastly, the flavor of natto is bold and intense, with a slight bitterness and an earthy undertone.

While 70% of Japanese people enjoy the taste of natto, foreigners may need time to adjust to its distinct qualities. Despite being initially challenging for some palates, many end up appreciating this traditional Japanese delicacy once they acquire a taste for it.

Are there any tips for beginners trying natto for the first time?

Start with small portions to ease into the unique flavor and texture of natto.

Mix it with other ingredients like rice or vegetables to dilute the intensity.

Experiment with different condiments such as soy sauce or karashi mustard to enhance the taste.

Try it in traditional Japanese dishes like natto sushi or miso soup to experience different flavors and combinations.

Embrace the slimy texture by mixing it well before eating and savoring each bite.

Keep an open mind and approach it as a cultural experience rather than focusing solely on taste.

How can I enhance the flavor of natto?

Mix in a small amount of soy sauce to add a savory umami flavor.

Drizzle some sesame oil over your natto to give it a nutty aroma and taste.

Sprinkle furikake, a Japanese seasoning blend, on top of your natto for added flavor and texture.

Squeeze some fresh lemon or lime juice onto your natto to brighten the taste.

Add a pinch of salt or sugar to balance out any bitterness or sourness in the natto.

Experiment with different toppings such as chopped green onions, grated ginger, or nori seaweed for extra complexity.

Pair your natto with other ingredients like rice, vegetables, or meat to create a well - rounded dish.

Try different condiments like karashi mustard or wasabi to give your natto a spicy kick.

Explore traditional Japanese recipes that incorporate natto, such as tamagoyaki (Japanese rolled omelet) or okonomiyaki (savory pancake).

Is natto typically eaten alone or with other foods?

Natto is typically eaten with other foods, particularly rice. It is commonly served as a breakfast dish in Japan, where it is mixed with rice and enjoyed together. The combination of natto's unique flavor and sticky texture pairs well with the simplicity of steamed rice.

To enhance the taste, natto can be mixed with soy sauce, karashi mustard, or other ingredients like long onion or kimchi. However, some people also enjoy eating natto on its own as a snack or adding it to various dishes such as sushi, miso soup, tamagoyaki (Japanese rolled omelette), salad, okonomiyaki (savory pancake), and chahan (fried rice).

This versatility makes natto a versatile ingredient that can add depth and umami to different recipes.

What are some common condiments to pair with natto?

Soy sauce: A classic choice, soy sauce adds a savory and salty flavor to natto. Drizzle a small amount over your natto and rice for a delicious combination.

Karashi mustard: For those who enjoy a bit of heat, karashi mustard is the perfect accompaniment to natto. The spicy kick of the mustard complements the rich flavor of the fermented soybeans.

Green onions: Chopped green onions add freshness and crunch to your natto dish. Sprinkle them on top to enhance the overall taste and texture.

Kimchi: If you're looking to add some tanginess and complexity to your natto, try pairing it with kimchi. The spicy fermented cabbage creates a flavorful contrast with the mildness of natto.

Shiso leaves: Shiso leaves are commonly used as a garnish for natto dishes. They have a unique flavor that adds depth and freshness to each bite.

Umeboshi (pickled plum): For a burst of sourness, try adding chopped umeboshi to your natto. The combination of tartness from the pickled plum and the umami taste of natto can be quite enticing.

Remember, these condiments are just suggestions - feel free to experiment and find your own favorite combinations with natto!

Types of Natto and Variations

Natto comes in various types and forms, offering a range of flavors and textures to suit different tastes. One popular variation is "hikiwari natto," which has a smoother and creamier texture compared to the traditional sticky and slimy version.

Another type is "mame natto," made from smaller soybeans, resulting in a softer and milder taste. For those who prefer a less pungent aroma, there's "white natto" that undergoes shorter fermentation.

Additionally, you can find flavored natto varieties (infused with ingredients like green onions or spicy mustard) for an extra kick of flavor. Whether you enjoy it traditional-style or opt for one of these variations, exploring the diverse world of natto will surely provide an exciting culinary adventure during your visit to Japan.

Are there different types of natto available?

Natto comes in various types and variations, offering a wide range of flavors and textures to suit different preferences. While the traditional natto is made from fermented soybeans, there are also variations such as black bean natto and mixed grain natto that incorporate other ingredients for added complexity.

Additionally, some producers offer flavored natto varieties like garlic or wasabi-infused options for those who enjoy a bit of extra kick. Whether you prefer the classic taste or want to explore unique twists on this superfood, you'll find plenty of choices when it comes to experiencing the diverse world of natto in Japan.

sushi nato

Natto Maki: This is a popular variation of natto where it is rolled up in sushi rice and seaweed.

Natto Tamago: Natto is mixed with beaten eggs and cooked to create a fluffy and flavorful dish.

Natto Okonomiyaki: Natto is added to the batter of this savory pancake, along with vegetables and meat or seafood.

Natto Salad: Natto can be added to salads for an extra boost of protein and unique flavor.

Natto Soup: Natto can be added to miso soup or other soups for a nutritious and hearty twist.

Grilled Natto: Some people enjoy grilling natto for a different texture and taste experience.

Natto Gohan: Simple yet delicious, natto gohan refers to natto mixed with steamed rice, often enjoyed as a breakfast staple in Japan.

Dried Natto Snacks: Dried natto snacks are available in various flavors, offering a convenient on-the-go option for natto lovers.

Remember, these variations provide diverse ways to enjoy natto while exploring Japanese cuisine.

Can I make my own variations of natto at home?

Absolutely! Making your own variations of natto at home is a fun and rewarding experience. Here are some ideas to get you started:

Explore different beans: While soybeans are traditionally used for natto, you can experiment with other legumes like black beans, chickpeas, or even adzuki beans for unique flavors and textures.

Add herbs and spices: Enhance the taste of your homemade natto by incorporating herbs and spices. Consider adding garlic, ginger, chili flakes, or even dried seaweed for extra flavor.

Mix in vegetables: Experiment with adding finely chopped vegetables like green onions, carrots, or bell peppers to add color and crunch to your natto.

Try different fermentation methods: Besides the traditional method of fermenting natto using Bacillus subtilis var. natto, you can also try using other starter cultures or probiotics to create new flavors.

Customize the fermentation time: Adjust the fermentation time based on your preference for milder or stronger flavors. Shorter fermentation times result in a milder taste while longer fermentation times intensify the flavor of natto.

Combine with other fermented foods: Get creative by combining natto with other fermented foods like kimchi or sauerkraut to create unique flavor combinations.

Is there a specific type of soybean used for natto?

Natto is traditionally made using a specific type of soybean called "natto-mame" or "large bean." These soybeans have a larger size and higher protein content compared to regular soybeans.

The natto-mame beans are carefully selected for their quality and tenderness, which allows them to ferment properly during the production process. This specific type of soybean gives natto its unique texture, flavor, and nutritional profile.

So when you're trying natto in Japan, rest assured that it's made with these special soybeans that contribute to its distinctive taste and characteristics.

Are there any regional specialties when it comes to natto?

Natto, the unique and beloved Japanese superfood, has various regional specialties that add even more diversity to its already rich flavors. In Tohoku, a region in northeastern Japan, they have their own version of natto called "Hatahata natto." This variation combines fermented soybeans with hatahata fish eggs for a delightful twist on the traditional dish.

Moving westward to Nagoya in central Japan, you'll find "Miso natto," where natto is mixed with miso paste for an umami-packed flavor explosion. Another interesting variation is found in Kyushu, southern Japan, known as "Kurozu natto," which incorporates black vinegar into the fermentation process to create a tangy and refreshing taste.

Each region puts its own spin on this superfood favorite, providing endless options for adventurous food lovers exploring Japan's culinary scene.

In addition to these regional specialties, different areas within Japan also have their own inventive ways of incorporating natto into local dishes. For example, in Osaka, you can try "Nattō-takoyaki," where small balls of savory batter are filled with octopus pieces and topped with gooey melted cheese and a dollop of flavorful natto.

In Okinawa Prefecture, located south of mainland Japan, locals enjoy "Rafute-nattō" – slow-cooked pork belly served with a side of natto mixed with chopped spring onions.

Exploring these regional variations and creative uses of natto adds another layer of excitement to your culinary adventures while visiting different parts of Japan. Don't hesitate to indulge in these unique flavors that truly showcase the diversity and creativity within Japanese cuisine!


In conclusion, Japan's natto, a modest, sticky soybean product, hides a wealth of health benefits beneath its unique texture and taste. From supporting heart health to enhancing digestion and promoting bone strength, this superfood is an exceptional representation of the age-old wisdom inherent in Japanese dietary customs. As you continue your culinary exploration of Japan, make room for natto - it's a traditional delight that doubles as a nutritional powerhouse. Discover the essence of this superfood and get a taste of Japan's longevity secret.