Natto is unique—many love it and eat it almost every day. Others are put off by the smell of ammonia and old socks and the stringy, sticky texture. True, natto may not be love at first sight, it’s more of an acquired taste. However, many have learned to love its somewhat odd personality.
What is natto?
The key ingredient is boiled or steamed soybeans that are fermented using a unique bacteria called Bacillus subtilis. Some who are allergic to soy can consume fermented soybeans a fermentation breaks down the problematic proteins causing issues.
The fermentation process creates a distinct, strong odor that some people find repugnant at first. For this reason, you might need to taste natto several times before learning to appreciate it. Just give it some time!
How does it taste?
Some compare the taste to Roquefort, a French blue cheese. It took me several attempts to enjoy the distinct taste of Roquefort, but it’s now my favorite cheese. The point is, don’t let first impressions discourage you. There are also ways to make natto more palatable.
Fermented soybeans should be keep in a refrigerator and consumed within a week or so. This is because its taste will gradually change. If the fermentation process continues too far, the soybeans will almost fully dissolve and develop a sharper ammonia-like odor.
When soybeans are fermented, the vitamins and enzymes created are very gut friendly. Here are a few examples:
Nattokinase is a unique enzyme found in natto with interesting properties. For example, nattokinase promotes a clean-up of blood vessels, circulation, supports the heart and prevents blood clots from forming.
Fermented soybeans are a good source of vitamin K2 (menaquinone). Studies reveal that after consuming natto, the K2 concentration in the body is 10 times higher than after eating spinach. Vitamin K is essential for healthy bones and prevents the hardening of arteries.
Bacillus subtilis is a probiotic bacterium with unique properties. Here’s a list of benefits reported by researchers:
- Lessen digestive problems caused by E. coli bacteria or food poisoning
- Prevent allergic reactions by reducing the histamine response
- Lower high cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure
- Reduce the bad effects of antibiotics on the gut
- Protect against inflammation
- Suppress allergic reactions
- Improve IBS symptoms
- Help with diarrhea
- Strengthen bones
Commercially fermented soybeans
In earlier times, rice bundles were filled with steamed beans and then stored in a warm, humid environment. This resulted in fermentation by Bacillus natto, a bacterium that lives in rice straw. During fermentation, the soybeans decompose, generating the distinctive natto strings, which can stretch up to 20 feet [6 m]!
Nowadays, natto is mass-produced in automated factories, where steamed soybeans are sprayed with the ideal amount of Bacillus natto. The beans are then transferred to small containers by machine. A conveyor moves them to storage, where preset temperature and humidity levels allow the beans to ferment and mature. After packaging, the natto is ready for market.
Most commercial natto is well-prepared and delicious.
How to eat natto
When you take it out of its package, pour it into a bowl and use a fork to whip it until it gets kind of foamy.
Natto is usually not eaten by itself. One reason is the texture; it is easier to swallow together with some condiments.
- With white rice is traditional; try fermented vegetables, scallions, yellow mustard, raw red onions, seaweed, wasabi, or mayonnaise.
- Can be served with spaghetti, Japanese noodles, even soup.
- Try eating natto with kimchi—it’s a superb marriage!
- And the traditional way—seasoned with soy sauce.
- Some enjoy it on buttered toast.
Fermented soybeans are stomach balm
You might be surprised how well natto makes the gut feel when consumed regularly. Therefore, give natto a chance. Don’t be scared by its stinky and slimy reputation. Who knows, you might even end up loving it!