Natto: What Is This Slimy Dish & Should I Try It?

by Joost Nusselder | Updated:  August 21, 2022

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Natto is a traditional Japanese dish made from fermented soybeans. It is often eaten for breakfast or as a side dish and is known for its strong, pungent smell and slimy texture. Natto is a good source of protein and vitamins and has been shown to have various health benefits.

Some eat it as breakfast food. Nattō may be an acquired taste because of its powerful smell, strong flavor, and slimy texture.

In Japan, nattō is most popular in the eastern regions, including Kantō, Tōhoku, and Hokkaido.

What is natto

What does “natto” mean?

Favorite Asian Recipes
Favorite Asian Recipes

Natto literally means “fermented beans”. The dish is made by fermenting steamed soybeans with the bacterium Bacillus subtilis, which gives natto its characteristic smell and sticky texture.

How is natto traditionally eaten?

Natto is traditionally eaten with rice and other dishes as part of a Japanese breakfast or lunch. It is also commonly eaten as a side dish with sushi. Natto can be added to other dishes such as noodles, soup, or rice balls.

What does natto taste like?

Natto has a strong, pungent smell and a slimy, sticky texture. It is also very salty and slightly sweet. The flavor of natto is often described as “umami”, or savory.

What’s the origin of natto?

Natto has been eaten in Japan for centuries, and its exact origins are unknown. It is thought to have originated in China, and was brought to Japan by Buddhist monks in the 11th century.

Natto was originally a winter dish, as the fermentation process took longer in colder weather. Nowadays, natto is available year-round.

How is natto made?

Natto is made by fermenting steamed soybeans with the bacterium Bacillus subtilis. This bacterium is found in soil, and was traditionally used to make natto.

Nowadays, natto starter kits are available that contain freeze-dried B. subtilis spores.

To make natto, the soybeans are first steamed until soft. The natto starter kit is then added, and the mixture is incubated for 18-24 hours.

The fermentation process produces enzymes that break down the soybean proteins into smaller units, which gives natto its characteristic sticky texture.

After fermentation, the natto is cooled and ready to eat. It can be stored in the fridge for up to a week.

What’s the difference between natto and tempeh?

Tempeh is a fermented soybean product from Indonesia that is similar to natto. Both dishes are made by fermenting soybeans with bacteria, and have a strong smell and sticky texture.

However, tempeh is less strongly flavored than natto and has a firmer texture. Tempeh is also usually not eaten with rice, but is used as an ingredient in other dishes such as salads or sandwiches.

What’s the difference between natto and nattokinase?

Nattokinase is an enzyme that is extracted from natto. This enzyme has various health benefits and is often sold as a dietary supplement. Natto itself also has many health benefits, as it is a good source of protein, vitamins, and minerals.

Popular natto sauces

Natto is usually eaten with a natto sauce, which is a mixture of dashi, soy sauce, and sugar. This sauce makes natto sweet and savory. Other popular sauces for natto include karashi (Japanese mustard) and wasabi.

Natto without the sauce is a little bit sweet.

Popular natto pairings

Natto is often eaten with rice, but can also be paired with other dishes such as noodles, soup, or rice balls. Natto can also be added to other dishes such as salads or sandwiches.

Where to eat natto?

Natto is a traditional Japanese dish, and can be found in most Japanese restaurants. It is also available in some supermarkets.

Natto etiquette

There is a proper way to eat natto, which is to mix it thoroughly with the sauce before eating. This makes the natto less sticky and easier to eat.

What are the health benefits of natto?

Natto is a good source of protein and vitamins, and has been shown to have various health benefits.

Natto contains high levels of the vitamin K2, which is important for bone health. Natto also contains enzymes that can help to break down and absorb nutrients from food.

Some studies have shown that natto may improve blood circulation and reduce inflammation. Natto has also been shown to contain compounds that can inhibit the growth of cancer cells.

Conclusion

Natto is weird and slimy, but a very healthy addition to your diet. I know it might not be for everyone but you should certainly try it!

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Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.