Foodosophy of Natto


Natto, is not as scary as most people tend to think.  It unfortunately gets a lot of bad press because of its unique (sticky & slimy) texture which coats the beans.  In an episode of “A Cook’s Tour”, Anthony Bourdain narrates:

“This (natto) is a really frightening texture, I mean it’s mucelogenous.  This is like eating out of a spit cup at the dentist.”

Maybe I am immune to these factors, as I was exposed to natto at a very young age.  Regardless, count me as one of those who love it.  Seriously, love it!

It is fairly easy to make natto at home (although it takes a couple days), but it is now readily available in the freezer section of most asian supermarkets.  Usually sold in 3-packs of either styrofoam (left), or plastic cups (right).  I find that these freezer packs represent the major characteristics of natto, but obviously prefer the freshly-fermented version as it tends to keep more of the nutty flavours from the soybean.

foodosophy_natto_packages

Once thawed, a quick stir will let you know that it is good to go.  I apologize for the second television quote, but according to the original Iron Chef – Battle Natto:

“Stir it up 15 times.  This means if you wisk the fermented beans some 15 times, little threads will form around them, and these enhance the flavour it’s said. But, if you stir more than 15 times the threads turn into little bubbles, and that spoils the delicate taste”.


Some people prefer to leave the beans whole, others like to give it a quick chop.  Photographed below are the characteristic natto ‘strings’ – which can stay connected over a freakishly long distance.

foodosophy_natto_thawed

The freezer packs contain a sweetened soy sauce, and a small pack of hot mustard.  My personal preference is to skip the pre-packaged additives, and add a generous topping of katsuo-boshi (shavings from a dried bonito) and approximately 1-2 teaspoons of soy sauce per package.

foodosophy_natto_katsuoboshi

I also prefer wasabi over the pre-packed hot mustard (although as this is the reconstituted powder, it is quite similar), along with finely chopped green onions and a raw quail egg.  Unfortunately – I did not have the later two on hand.  The flavour from the green onions cut through the nutty soybeans, while the yolk accentuates the texture.

foodosophy_natto_wasabi

Typically served with, or on-top of a bowl of rice.  You’ll notice my stack of nori, cut into 3cm x 10cm strips (more on that later).

foodosophy_natto_rice_nori

Now, eating natto can be messy and difficult.  A spoon might seem like the most intelligent option, but I find that it tends to collect a lot of the natto slime.  This is where the strips of nori come into play.

Lay a strip of nori onto the natto and rice, then using a pair of chopsticks – press down on the outer edges of the nori, while simultaneously closing the chopsticks.  This will essentially ‘pinch’ a mix of ingredients, making a perfect bite-sized, natto-maki.  When done correctly, it keeps the natto strings under control, while the crisp nori adds a perfect textural element.

foodosophy_natto_hashimaki

The health benefits (and I’m not referring to those which “makes you strong”) have been studied, and if any of it is true, is definitely worth a try!

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23 thoughts on “Foodosophy of Natto

  1. I’m usually game to try “difficult” foods – but natto is a taste I couldn’t acquire.
    I can happily eat tempeh and other fermented soy products. I might have to eat it for 30 days: http://thenattoproject.com/

    I even tried to make my own once to see if that made a difference. (I was able to buy natto-kin from Fujiya in the freezer section right next to the frozen sake koji culture….I haven’t seen it there in a while though.)

  2. Well Gastro, count me as part of that crowd as well. I’ve tried natto in many different ways, with many different preparations, and I have never really enjoyed it either. In a recent trip to one of my favorite sushi-yas, the itamae told me “you just havent had it prepared properly”. So i let him make me a natto maki. With a touch of uzu pepper paste, shiso leaf, rolled inside with the natto, the best it tasted was… meh. It was the best natto i ever had, and i could live without ever eating it again – easily 🙂

    I guess you either grow up with it or you don’t.

  3. 2-to-1 against 😦

    Natto lovers out there – I need you to back me up! 🙂

    Gastro: It is possible to use an existing batch of natto as the seed for the fermentation process, which is something I’ve seen done many times in the past. I should have mentioned, that while easy to make – a fresh batch can be (if at all possible) MORE visually disturbing due to the white haze that forms over the top layer.

    Foodosopher: Let me be your guide to great natto next time you’re through town.

    • Deal otoro. I will give it another try. Though after natto-don, natto-maki, natto tempura, natto nigiri, im starting to doubt there’s any form i’d enjoy. Tolerate? Yes. Enjoy? No.

  4. I have read that it could be a genetic split in the population – “like” and “don’t like” natto. Similar to the split in people who like and don’t like cilantro.

    Stinky Tofu is another problematic food for me. Tried to like it. Had it in Asia and had it here, but just couldn’t get into it. It has a similar aroma as natto – sort of an ammonia, gym sock with hints of grabage can ;-).

    Sorry o-toro! ;-p …but indeed you actually have inspired me to give it another go. I’ll pop into Fujiya today to pick up a pack.

    • Stinky tofu has been elusive to me. I’ve never seen it on a menu, but then again have never gone out of my way to hunt it down. Figured I could put it off untill I get around to Taipei and hit Dai’s.

      Cold natto doesn’t carry as much of the gym sock/garbage smell, but if you’re getting whifs of ammonia – odds are that the fermentation is growing something other than the good bacillus natto bacteria, which you may want to avoid.

      • You can get stinky tofu here – at Richmond Night Market, and a number of Chinese (mostly Taiwanese) joints. Next time you are in town, give it a shot!

    • Stinky Tofu is actually quite good. The smell is off putting, but if you can get past that, it tastes awesome. Which makes it stranger as to why i don’t like natto…

      The Stinky Tofy at the Richmond Night market is only average though… wait till Taiwan oToro and you could have a better experience. I think restaurant “smell ordinance” wouldnt allow the right amount of fermentation. Also, you want the kind that is fried after being fermented. Yum!

      • I believe this ingredient is only available through underground and unregulated sources even here in Vancouver. Yes – the fried stuff is almost tolerable 🙂

        Actually, I can imagine how people can love this stuff. I don’t exactly remember when I fell in love with blue cheeses….it happened so slowly for me. Like with blue cheeses, the love of natto and stinky tofu will probably have be a slow burn process for me.

  5. I’m on the natto bandwagon, can eat it no problem.

    Did you know in Japan there are even types that have none of the smell that bothers some people? Not sure how they do it, but to me when I ate it, it just wasn’t the same. Other types have things like shiso incorporated into them, to cover the scent.

    Some are chopped up finely, others use smaller soy beans, some use only organic. Natto is really diverse in Japan. Its touted for its health properties as well. Check out just this one brand, and see how even the servings/packages can vary.

    http://www3.mizkan.co.jp/sapari/product/series/index.asp?id=19

    I like eating it as is, on steamed rice, or mixed with other ingredients (a ‘natto bakudan’ (literally natto explosion) was a dish I had in an izakaya once that was basically natto mixed with fresh sashimi that you made into handrolls. I’ve had it as natto chahan (natto fried rice) also. Natto in maki is also pretty good.

    Now don’t ask me why I can’t stand the smell of stinky tofu or durian…

  6. Growing up I wasn’t a huge fan of the stuff as I never really saw the attraction of eating slime. However, as I’ve gotten older I’ve grown to really enjoy the stuff and I think it’s a fantastic breakfast along with a bowl of rice. The only thing that really bugs me about the stuff is that I find the strings make my lips itch. Just a minor allergic response, but annoying nevertheless.

    To give natto doubters out there hope, until recently I hated, and I mean truly despised cilantro. I’ve since come around and actually like it and think its an integral part of many dishes. I guess the problem lies in that I wouldn’t eat a bunch of cilantro by itself, but natto is meant to enjoy for its own unique characteristics.

    Foodosopher, being a lover of uni, I’m surprised you don’t like natto. They both have very similar textural elements and somewhat similar flavor profiles.

    • How hurtful that you would compare my beloved uni with natto. One is creamy, rich, unctuous, tasting of an ocean breeze with a kiss of salt water. The other tastes like fried dirt, burnt grass, and undercooked legume.

      It’s not the texture that bothers me that much, though a overly gooey/sticky natto is pretty gross. The taste is not very good, and somewhat boring all at the same time!

      • Its the gooey-ness that makes natto great! 🙂 The stretchy strands that bind the beans together, or as the Japanese say, the “neba neba”-ness of it all. If you don’t like natto, but are willing to challenge yourself at another rice topping vegetable, grate some yamaimo (Japanese mountain yam) and you get what’s called tororo. Mix in some chopped up okra, some green onion, nori and you get a double punch of gooey goodness. 🙂

        • I’ve had tororo (my friend’s wife calls it monkey c*m – that’s an osakan for you 🙂 ), and gooey okra too. Gotta admit – not my style. I under stand the neba neba concept – but not loving it.

      • I gotta say that uni CAN taste a bit like natto. Beautifully fresh uni tastes a bit like ocean flavoured cream cheese.

    • T&T @WEM for the NW Edmonton folk
      CANAKOR (3116 Parsons Rd) for those in South Edmonton.
      Chinatown – I know I’ve seen it at Lucky97 before.

      I always order the natto-ika (natto with squid & egg yolk), when I go to “Sushi-Wasabi” in Lendrum mall. They also serve the natto-maki, but the te-maki (cone) is the better way to go – as there just isn’t enough natto in the hoso-maki for it to stand out.

      Foodosopher: Uni & natto combined could be your stepping stone to enjoying this with us!

      • better be great uni, and very little natto 🙂

        Funnily enough, i had the natto-ika, and the natto temaki at Sushi Wasabi. You know how i feel about it!

  7. Darlings, let me tell you, there is a japanese restaurant in downtown vancity that serve – – – – natto ice-cream!! 🙂 I can’t wait to see your reactions to THIS! keeke

    Anyhow, although I understand how the slimy texture of natto can put some people off, but I still think natto (or any exotic food ingredients) if prepared properly and with a mix of fresh ingredients to top it off can be more palatable. Honestly, I was first introduced to the infamous natto two years ago, and have since been eating it every now and then! I must say to O-TORO, your methods of preparing the natto made me want to try it for myself tomorrow! so awesome, never thought of using chopsticks to pick up pieces of nori to wrap up the natto & rice! yum!

    Another reason why I enjoy eating natto so much is the stirring part, it’s fun to play around with food!

    When I was in tokyo this past july, I had a dish of natto for breakfast. In the dish of natto contained fresh ahi tuna (chopped into small cubes), sliced okra, grated yama-imo and a bow of steamed rice. I just added a little bit of soy sauce to taste and boy was it delicious. I suggest for first timers, don’t eat the natto alone, pair it up with a few things to add different textures, you’ll be amazed with what your palate have been missing, it’s a fun eexperience.

  8. I love natto! It took me a year or two of living in a natto-loving region of Japan, and then I was hooked. Whenever I order it in a sushi restaurant, the waiter always comes back to make sure I know what I’m doing 🙂 🙂 Craving some now…

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