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What To Eat With Natto? – Find Out Here

  • Ashly 
  • 15 min read

Many Japanese foods, or Japanese-inspired foods, feature in the diet of the Japanese, but Natto is one of the most well-known and has been around for hundreds of years. It is made from fermented soybeans, and has a foul smell and a slimy texture.

It is a popular dish in Japan, where it is eaten as a breakfast cereal with milk, or as a snack. Natto also appears in many recipes for other foods, such as dishes served in hot pots.

Natto: How To Eat Fermented Soybeans And Enjoy Their Health Benefits

One of the most popular breakfast dishes in Japan is natto (fermented beans). Even Japanese chain restaurants have “Natto teishoku” (natto meal sets) as a breakfast menu.

Have you ever tried natto? If not, let’s find out more about this dish – what it is made of, how to eat it, and how does it taste.

Many visitors from overseas tend to avoid natto due to its sticky texture and pungent smell, but once you know its benefits and try it more than once, you will definitely start to like it.

What Is Natto and How Is It Made?

Natto is fermented soybeans. The beans are brought to fermentation by a bacteria called Bacillus subtilis and then aged for about a week.

In the process of fermentation, the carbohydrates turn into alcohol or acid. Usually, this is done with bacteria or with yeast. In the case of natto, Bacillus subtilis is the bacteria which is used.

There are two types of beans – small beans and large ones. The larger the beans, the less sticky they will get when you mix them, making them the best type for beginners.

Additionally, there is a dish called “hikiwari.” This is natto made from soybeans that are crushed before the fermentation process begins.

This creates more surface area for the bacteria to grab onto, making this natto the stickiest and strongest tasting of them all.

The Best Natto Brand

There are a lot of brands to choose from, different flavors (wasabi, kimchi, pickled plum) and even types of beans.

Some are broken up to be used in maki rolls while others are whole. While it’s fun to try a new brand or flavor once in a while, I do have a couple of favorites I keep going back to:

  • Okame Kotsubu Mini – this brand is famous all across Japan. The brand is easy to recognize because of the traditional Japanese okame face mask found on the red packaging. What you get are whole natto soybeans with the traditional combination of tare and yellow mustard.
  • Shirakiku “Kotsubu” Natto – again this brand offers the traditional tare and mustard flavor with whole beans.

There’s a lot of good natto in Japan. My go-to natto brand during the week is Azuma. Their natto is organic and cheap!

When I just started eating natto, I preferred their hikiwari variety. Hikiwari means the natto beans are chopped up into small pieces. I found it easier to stomach.

Nowadays, I tend to buy the yuki sodachi, which is the regularwhole bean because I can find it packaged in paper cups rather than the styrofoam that natto usually comes in.

The soybeans used to make Azuma’s organic, non-GMO natto are grown in the US. Azuma also has other non-organic options with soybeans that are grown locally in Japan.

When I lived in Sapporo, I bought some wonderful Hokkaido natto at the natural food store I went to. I’ve still to try black natto. I continue to hunt for the best natto in Japan.

I also have an Australian friend who makes her own natto which I got to taste last week. Yum! If making your own natto at home interests you, let me know!

Ways To Eat Natto

There are so many different ways to eat natto that to list them all would require me to start a blog just for that. Especially nowadays since you can find anything from natto ice cream, candy, pasta, even pizza!

So I’ve decided to only list the most popular ways to eat natto along with one of my favorite natto recipes:

Natto Over Rice With Scallions

Serving natto over warm Japanese rice with chopped scallions is the most traditional way to do it.

Ben and I eat it this way often with a drizzle of soy sauce and a sprinkle of Ajinomoto.

Natto Over Rice With Raw Egg

This is almost the same as the traditional version except with a raw egg on top. I love this style because the egg tones down the flavor of the nato and adds creaminess to the dish. Eating natto this way feels decadent!

Natto On Toast

This is another popular way Japanese people enjoy eating nattō. Since it’s considered a breakfast food, it only makes sense that it would eventually make its way onto a piece of toast.

You can have toast with butter and natto, paired with mayonnaise, or topped with cheese (all of which are very popular combinations).

Natto With Avocado, Cucumber, Scallions and Bonito Flakes

This is our favorite way to eat natto when we have it for lunch or dinner. It’s filling and oh so tasty!

Basically it’s super easy – warm Japanese rice with diced cucumber, avocado and scallions.

Add natto, soy sauce and top with plenty of bonito flakes (and a raw egg too, but that’s optional).

So good!

 Ingredients:

  • 1 package natto
  • 1/2 cup warm, cooked Japanese rice (preferably short grain)
  • 1/2 avocado, chopped
  • 1/2 cup English cucumber, seeded and diced
  • 1 scallion, finely chopped
  • Raw egg (optional)
  • Soy sauce for drizzling

Instruction:

Place the rice in a bowl and top with the remaining ingredients. Serve immediately

Note:

If you bought natto frozen, leave it in the fridge overnight and it will be ready to eat the next day. Do not microwave!

Other Popular Ways To Eat Natto:

  • As a topping with silken tofu
  • With kimchi over rice
  • In Miso Soup – yup, you can add it in your soup!

Best foods with Natto

Natto can be served as part of a meal or as a snack.

If you want to try your hands at making a full traditional Japanese breakfast, try pairing it with some of these yummy dishes:

  • Miso soup
  • Tsukemono (Japanese pickles)
  • Air fryer salmon
  • Hiyayakko
  • Watercress salad

Natto Enlightenment For Those Who Are Against Natto (Yet)

This natto recipe is for you if you’re someone who doesn’t like natto. 

I’m sure you already know that eating natto is really healthy. It’s Japan’s #1 superfood. That’s not the problem. You’re just not sure how you’ll ever be able to get past the smell and sticky texture. 

If this is you, I’ve got an easy recipe for you to try. You can have it ready for your breakfast in minutes. And it will have you say, “Hey, it’s nah-toe so bad.”

Eating natto this way, I learned to actually like it. It only took me about a week to acquire the taste. It’s possible for you to love eating natto too, even if you weren’t born Japanese.

Read on and you’ll learn my secret to learning to like natto. Also, make sure to read the advice from natto-loving expats who live in Japan.

Have You Ever Tasted Natto?

Living in Japan as a foreigner, we all eventually get asked the question in textbook English “Can you eat natto?”

The canned response from foreigners has been “ewe,  no thank you!”, with a plugging of our nose gesture.

Maybe you’ve tried to incorporate this ultra-healthy Japanese food into your diet before. But the smell, taste, or slimy texture put a quick end to that well-intentioned idea.

Natto is so good for you– isn’t it worth a second try? Many people will automatically respond “no!”

But for those brave souls with more adventurous palettes, this natto recipe is for you.  When mixed with other ingredients, the strong taste and smell of the natto gets masked.

For me, there was one key ingredient that was a game-changer. It makes it so much easier to like natto, if you aren’t used to eating gooey, fermented foods.

Why Natto Is Slimy?

The reason why natto is so slimy is because of the fermenting process that creates a sticky and stringy texture on the surface of the soybeans. The longer it ferments and the slimier and stinkier it gets. You think okra is slimy? Wait until you try natto, the texture will remind you of mucus.

What Does It Tastes Like?

Natto’s taste is extremely pungent and unique. Nothing else on this planet tastes like natto is truly the best answer to this question, you just have to try it to find out.

But to give you an idea, natto lovers (including myself) would compare the taste to aged cheese, foie gras, or Marmite.

And if you are wondering what it smells like, think of old socks, old cheese, sweat, despair (okay, I’m obviously kidding here).

But here’s the crazy part – if you love it like Ben and I do, you will crave it all the time despite all the unappealing yet true comparisons!

Natto Health Benefits

In Japan, natto has long been hailed as a superfood. It’s believed that consumption of natto is linked to improved blood flow and reduced risk of stroke.

Natto is an excellent source of plant-based protein, which is especially good news if you’re vegetarian or vegan. It’s also high in fiber and rich in vitamins and minerals.

1. Natto contains more vitamin K2 than any other known food on the planet. 

2. It contains the enzyme nattokinase.

3. It’s full of probiotics.

4. It promotes bone health.

5. It enhances your gut microbiome and digestive health.

6. It keeps your heart healthy and prevents blood clots.

It’s also packed with vitamin B6 and vitamin E, which boosts cell turnover and slows skin aging.

Why Is Natto So Healthy?

Natto is made by soaking whole soybeans, then steaming or boiling them. A bacteria called Bacillus subtilis bacteria is added. The mixture is stored for 16 hours at a temperature of around 40˚C before being allowed to mature for 24 hours at a low temperature. 

The fermentation process produces Vitamin K. It also increases the health benefits of the enzyme found in natto, nattokinase, and other health-boosting components such as isoflavone and polyamine.

People who eat fermented soy-based foods such as “natto” and “miso” on a daily basis reduce the risk of dying from a stroke or heart attack by 10 percent, according to a long-term study by the National Cancer Center in Tokyo.

3 Tips For Learning How To Like Natto

This week, I surveyed expats who live in Tokyo and Sapporo about how they learned to eat natto. I was lucky to receive comments from over a hundred foreigners living in Japan.

Here is the best advice that they shared on how to acquire the taste for natto.

1. First, you have to have the right mindset.

“Just try as a new challenge! It’s healthy and you can eat it in many ways.”

“I think half the battle is mental. I had to convince myself that it was good.”

“It’s the initial experience that throws you off but if you muster enough courage to try a second time, it’s actually fine.”

“Used to hate it, but heard it’s great for your body so I’ve forced myself to have it and now I love it.”

“It helped that before I tried it someone described it as, ‘an acquired taste, like a well aged cheese,’ and I was thinking ‘I love cheese!!’ while I tried it for the first time.

If you try natto in the context of everyone saying ‘it’s gross, snotty, and smells bad,’ and expecting you not to like it, it’s not a pleasant experience, unrelated to the flavor.”

2. Start small. Take baby steps.

“At first I ate very small quantities mixed with rice. When my husband ate it, I would steal 4-5 beans and eat them with my own rice. Then progressively upped the quantity, now I can eat a normal portion alone!

3. Add toppings! Mask the taste and smell and alter the texture with other ingredients.

“I like natto, especially served on hot (freshly made) rice and with raw egg. I love karashi mixed with it too.”

“I have it with a raw egg and a dash of soy sauce at least 3 times a week. It’s my go-to snack when I need something nourishing, in a hurry.”

“I had it with parmesan cheese one day on rice and it worked. Also tried with kimchi and also liked it – then I was over my dislike.

I usually have it a la japonaise with raw egg. I love to pepper it with a lot of black pepper (saw the idea on television one day and tried it and liked it).”

“Natto curry. That’s also how I acquired the taste.”

“Initially, I had to mix it with either mayonnaise or kimchi or both. Mixing it with Korean seaweed is great too. There’s so many ways to change its tastes for it to be better till you actually ‘acquire’ the taste. Ume-shiso is amazing. Avocado and soy sauce.

Or just go crazy with the neba-neba and add yamaimo, okra, mekabu, etc.”

“Try putting ponzu instead of soy sauce. I feel like it takes the ‘slime’ out a bit and tastes great!”

“I kept coming back to it but the recipe that changed me was a natto cheese omelette.”

“I ate it mixed with rice, kimchi, and melted cheese. Though I suspect that was because it pretty much masked the natto completely.”

“I usually mix it with avocado, green onions and ponzu, and then it’s quite good!”

The secret ingredient in this recipe is extra-virgin olive oil!

The oil coats the surface of the beans, making it less sticky. It also masks natto’s strong smell and taste. 

The olive oil may also make it easier for you to digest natto, if you normally have a hard time digesting legumes.

How To Eat Natto

First, open the package of natto. Inside, you’ll find a small packet of tare (soy saucebased sauce) and karashi (Japanese mustard). Take both packets out and set them aside.

Next, peel off the clear film that’s on top of the natto. 

The sticky natto will cling to the plastic sheet. Give the plastic sheet a twirl in the air if any stubborn strings of natto try to stay attached.

Since natto is so sticky, there are specific tricks to remove the plastic film without making a mess. 

Using chopsticks, you can mix natto right inside the package. Some Japanese people say the natto will taste better if you mix the natto well until it becomes sticky. 

After mixing, you can add the tare and mustard on top. 

Then, mix it again.

When you eat natto directly from the package, there is also a specific technique so you don’t make a mess with the gooey strings that stick to your chopsticks. 

How To Eat Natto With Chopsticks Without Making A Mess

When you eat natto directly from the package, there is also a specific technique so you don’t make a mess with the gooey strings that stick to your chopsticks. 

1. First, it’s important to hold your bowl in one hand up close to your mouth.

2. Next, pick up some natto (and rice) with your chopsticks. Raise your chopsticks directly vertical above the bowl. Your chopsticks should be horizontal (parallel to the table). 

3. Then, gently move your chopsticks up and down so that that any loose natto beans fall back into your bowl.

 4. After you put some natto in your mouth, make a few small counter-clockwise circles in the air with your chopsticks to minimize the sticky strings stretching from your mouth to your chopsticks.  

My guess is that Japanese people do this as a habit without even realizing they do it.

How People In Japan Eat Natto

The most basic way, is eating it straight from the package, mixed with the tare sauce and karashi mustard that comes in the package.

I imagine budget-strapped college students in Japan eating natto this way. 

Most people eat natto by mixing it in a bowl with condiments and dashi (sometimes substituted with soy sauce) and then spreading it over hot rice.

Chopped green onions or katsuobushi, shreaded bonito flakes, are probably the two most popular toppings.

It’s also very common to eat natto mixed with raw egg over rice. If you come to Japan, you gotta try it! Otherwise, please don’t eat raw egg in your home country unless you are Rocky.

As a safe alternative, you could try natto with a fried egg, sunny side up. 

Natto-kimchi is another combination to try. At a cheap restaurant I used to go in Yoyogi Uehara, I often ordered this with yakitori. On the menu, it was only like 200 yen.

At restaurants, I’ve also tried natto pasta, natto tempura, and natto atsuage, fried tofu stuffed with natto. All of these dishes were surprisingly wonderful.

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