10 Things You Didn’t Know About Natto, Japan’s Superfood

10 Things You Didn’t Know About Natto, Japan’s Superfood


na ・ tto

 Lots of Japanese health foods are trending around the world, from kombucha (in Japan, called “koucha kinoko” (紅茶キノコ) or mushroom tea) to green tea to tofu. Last week we introduced the healthy fermented rice drink, amazake. This week, we will tell you ten things you probably didn’t know about Japan’s traditional breakfast superfood, “natto!” But first off, let us give you a brief introduction to these curious beans.

*Please note that natto is a fermented food and that nothing in this article constitutes medical advice, and that as such these magical beans should be added to your diet at your own risk (those with thyroid problems, consult with your doctor).

What Is Natto?

Natto is a fermented food, made from soybeans and a fungus called Bacillus subtilis natto. Natto contains powerful nutrients, including protein, isoflavone (hormone balancer), lecithin (for healthy skin), enzymes, calcium, magnesium, Vitamin K, and dietary fiber. Traditionally, soybeans were wrapped in rice straw or a thin sheet of pine, where it naturally came in contact with the powerful natto-making fungus. Because this process is hard to regulate, in modern times soybeans are sealed up with the fungus in Styrofoam packs, containing 50g each.

How To Eat Natto

There are endless ways to eat natto, but if you have lived or grew up in Japan, you probably had it for many breakfasts over a bowl of white rice with “karashi,” Japanese mustard, soy sauce, and a raw egg. Natto is meant to be stirred up into a sticky foam, but whether you stir before you add the sauces or after is a matter of taste.

Now that you know the basics, on to the ten things that you probably didn’t know about natto that will make you want to eat it all the more!

1 Natto Was Made By Accident

As the story goes, natto was made by accident way back in the Yayoi Period, between 300 B.C.–300 A.D. Soybeans that were being cooked spilled over onto the rice straw, where it lay unnoticed until it fermented. Since food was too precious to throw out, someone tried it, liked it, and people have been eating it ever since!

2 Why Natto Has an Expiration Date

Some people are surprised that natto has an expiration date.“If it’s already fermented, how can it go bad?” The answer lies in the difference between “fermented” and “rotten.”Fermented foods are edible and beneficial for your health. (Other fermented foods include German sauerkraut and Korean kimchi.) Rotten foods are inedible and harmful when consumed.

3 July 10th is Natto Day

Seventh (July is the seventh month of the year): “na” (なっ)
Tenth “tou” (とう)
Na + tou = “na tou” or “natto”

4 Natto is foamy because…

…of an enzyme called nattokinase, which prevents blood clots and helps to lower blood pressure. This enzyme is heat sensitive, so if you want to cook with natto, add it to your after you’ve turned off the heat!

5 The Foamier, the Better!

The more you mix natto, the foamier it gets. Mixing natto 200 times increases the amino acids by an astounding 2.5 times!

6 Natto Could Help You Live Longer!

Maybe you already knew this, but do you know why? A study showed that natto reduces the risk of death by heart attack, again thanks to its many nutrients and the nattokinase*. No wonder Japan is ranked number 2 in the world for longevity (at the writing of this article)!

*(Mainichi Newspaper) (NYture New York Natto) (Asahi Shimbun) (British Medical Journal)

7 Natto Was First Sold in Ibaraki

Natto was first sold by a man named Seizaimon Sasanuma during the Meiji Period, when the Mito Railway Line opened up.

8 Leave Off the Egg White

Egg yolk and natto have good chemistry, but the combination of raw egg white and natto cancels out some of the nutritional benefits.

For your next natto breakfast bowl, leave off the egg white, or cook it separately!

9 Power Up Your Natto With Perfect Pairs

Natto + kimchi: supports gut flora balanceNatto+ tuna: promotes blood circulation, reduces cholesterol levelsNatto + green onions or onions: increases vitamin B1 absorption, aids in recovery from exhaustion

10 Natto is the Meat of Samurai

Although I can’t find a Japanese source online that backs it up, a Japan Times article reports that natto was known in olden days as the “meat of samurai.” Apparently, samurai wrapped soybeans in bamboo leaves as a pre-battle snack, stuck them in their pockets, went off to fight, and of course forgot about them. By the time they returned from battle and remembered, the beans were fermented, but the samurai were too famished to care!

If you weren’t craving a bowl of natto and rice before you started reading, I hope you are now. You should be able to find it easily at your local Asian supermarket for an affordable price. If you don’t plan to eat it right away, freeze it, and just thaw the amount you plan to eat.  Recommended amount: 60g per day

What Do You Think?

Are you ready to give natto a try? Which of the ten facts about natto surprised you the most? Do you stir your natto before or after you add the sauce? What’s your favorite natto topping? Let us know in the comments below!

For the Die-Hard Natto Lovers–  Japanese mustard       Large Bean Natto

 Small Bean Natto

  Dry Natto (Plum-Flavored)

Sources– Japan NattoKinase Association  Japan National Tourist Organization  WebMD (Nattokinase)  Japan Experience

  1. I didn't know any of those things about natto!

    I definitely stir it beforehand… stirring after adding the sauce seems to kill some of the nebaneba (stickiness)! Also, for people wondering, I'd describe natto taste as… similar to coffee beans, except slimy.

  2. I didn't know most of the stuff either, especially that the foam had such a nutritional benefit. I don't like it so I stir natto after adding soy sauce for the explicit purpose of preventing it! I don't like to use raw eggs. My preferred toppings :negi, karashi, daikon oroshi apart from shoyu, and eat it with rice using nori, making small norimaki.

  3. Yes, coffeebeans are a good way to describe natto's nuttiness!

    The natto experts seem to recommend your way, of adding the sauce afterwards for maximum neba!

  4. I see, it's the minimum neba style! Negi, karashi, daikon oroshi, and norimaki all seem like they will get rid of the natto smell. Maybe those are perfect recipes for someone who is trying it for the first time!

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