Most people don't like natto's taste and texture but this old-fashioned soy product is good for you. | Dr. Kaayla Daniel

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Published on May 2nd, 2013 | by DrKaayla

20

Nothing Natty about Natto. But the Strings of Soy Slime ARE Good for You.

There’s nothing natty about natto.  This old-fashioned soy product is made from whole soybeans that have been soaked, boiled or steamed, and then fermented.    It’s known for its sticky coat, cheesy texture, musty taste, sliminess, stringiness and pungent odor.   Healthwise, it’s good for us and one of the “good old soys.”

Natto first appeared in northeastern Japan about a thousand years ago.  Traditionally, it smelled like straw because it was made by inoculating whole cooked soybeans with Bacillus subtilis or Bacillus natto and incubated in straw.   The straw also absorbed the none-too-fragrant ammonia-like odor.   Because of frequent contamination by unwanted microorganisms, natto makers abandoned the straw method in favor of inoculating the cooked beans with B. natto, then mixing and packing the product in wooden boxes or polyethylene bags.

Natto is one of the few fermented soy products in which bacteria predominate over the fungi.  It’s made the news as a good source of vitamin K2, which exists in only a few foods other than animal fats like butter, but is vital to blood clotting and healthy bone formation and preservation.   Nattokinase is an enzyme sold as a supplement and recommended by many alternative MDs for cardiovascular and circulatory problems.

As a food, natto may be served with mustard and soy sauce, or used in soups and spreads in Japanese cuisine.   A little goes a long way.   Children love it — not for its strong, rotten flavor — but because its glistening threads can be stretched, making it one of the all-time great play foods.   As for them actually eating it, not likely, at least not over here!

Indeed, natto isn’t even popular in all parts of Japan.  In areas where it is popular, many restaurants that serve it require patrons to sit in a private area so as not to offend other patrons with the distinctive smell.

Why so?  I’ll let the irrepressible Anthony Bourdain explain it:

“What I was not ready for, and never will be, was natto  .  .  .  an unbelievably foul, rank, slimy, glutenous and stringy goop of fermented soybeans.  . . .  If the taste wasn’t bad enough, there’s the texture.  There’s just no way to eat the stuff.  I dug in my chopsticks and dragged a small bit to my mouth.  Viscous long strands of mucuslike material followed, leaving numerous ugly and unmanageable strands running from my lips to the bowl.  I tried severing the strands with my chopsticks, but to no avail.  I tried rolling them around my sticks like recalcitrant angel-hair pasta.  I tried slurping them in.  But there was no way.  I sat there, these horrible-looking strings extending from mouth to table like a spider’s web, doing my best to choke them down while still smiling . . . All I wanted to do now was hurl myself through the paper walls and straight off the edge of the mountain.   Hopefully, a big tub of boiling bleach or lye would be waiting at the bottom for me to gargle with.”   

 

That about sums it up.   Except that natto‘s actually very good for you!

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20 Responses to Nothing Natty about Natto. But the Strings of Soy Slime ARE Good for You.

  1. That Anthony Bourdain is one of my favorite people! He always says what he’s thinking. But really: my kids LOVE natto. They weren’t sure about it the first time they tried it. But then the second one was the turning point. They absolutely love it and ask for it like it’s a snack of cookies or ice cream. Maybe my kids are just weird….

  2. Fred says:

    I would like to try Natto, but here in Europe it seems to be available only deep frozen in Asian food stores. Will frozen (and then thawed) Natto still have the benefits of ‘fresh’ (LOL) Natto available only, it seems, in Japan itself?

    An alternative might be this product:

    http://www.terrasana.nl/_img/270.1576.jpg

    It is available in organic stores here, but contains an awful lot of corn syrup (i.e. sugar), it tastes VERY sweet. I doubt it’s the real thing.

    So should I get the frozen stuff?

    Cheers!

    • Dr. Kaayla says:

      I would think frozen natto would be fine but would definitely avoid any product with corn syrup.

  3. David says:

    I once worked with a young woman who had spent some time in Japan and was surprised when I said I ate natto although she also admitted to eating some now and then. I usually ate natto 2 or 3 mornings a week, have done so for years, and was sitting at my desk eating some of it after mixing mustard and soy sauce into the fermented beans, when she happened to walk by. She looked at what I was eating, eyes as wide as saucers, quickly brought one hand up to cover her mouth, almost starting gagging, quickly stepped back to avoid the smell, and shrieked: “I didn’t know you ate it straight!” lol

  4. Desiree says:

    Hello Kaayla,

    You are mentioned in the article below in a negative way. It should be noted that I am a WAPF member and supporter, however this article makes some very good points. I think you should pen a reply because I am confused now.

    http://www.womentowomen.com/healthynutrition/soycontroversy.aspx#.UaZ8PkwkQug.facebook

    • Dr. Kaayla says:

      Thanks for your concern, but no real reason for confusion. I’ve written a book and scores of articles that thoroughly address all of Dixie Mills points and more. Here’s the link to my book. http://bit.ly/13ZqvIj
      You’ll also find a lot of solid information on my blog at the Weston A. Price Foundation’s website westonaprice.org and at my other website wholesoystory.com. For a quick response to some of the key questions, read my reply to Dr. Mark Hyman there. That led to my appearing on The Dr. Oz Show with Dr. Hyman to air the soy controversy.

  5. Kim says:

    On seeing this in Japan as an exchange student I first thought that it looked as unappealing as snot. After tasting it I changed my mind. Some little kids eat snot, but I never saw a Japanese kid eat this!
    PS It’s okay in tempura (as are most foods when deep fried!)

    • Dr. Kaayla says:

      I’m getting a surprising number of reports of kids enjoying eating natto. Mine sure wouldn’t eat it.

  6. I LOVE natto! The Japanese eat it mixed with rice in the mornings. The best ways I’ve found to eat it are 1) mixed in quinoa that has tons of stuff in it: sautéed onions, garlic, various veggies – sort of like a fried rice. Then I’ll mix in some Srirachi sauce or an Asian chili garlic sauce, then add the natto. It is very well disguised this way and more than palatable. . 2) A grain-free variation on that is making a whole foods “rice” out of either (singularly) finely pulsed cauliflower slightly sautéed in coconut oil and also adding all of the above ingredients, or I love to make it with cabbage, onions, cauliflower and broccoli. A real antioxidant/phytonutrient powerhouse along with the very important source of vitamin K that is important for bone health along with myriad other benefits.

  7. Mike Moskos says:

    I’ve made batches of natto twice. You can get the powdered culture from gemcultures.com. As far as I know, they’re the only ones who sell it (and have for at least 10 years).

    You can also find it frozen in many Asian markets, but I doubt a frozen product will have the health effects people are looking for.

    If you make it, here’s my advice. There seems to be one version of the recipe running around, with the only variation being that in one, the soybeans are steamed and in the other, boiled.
    –If you have a way to cook the soybeans outside, do it–they stink while being cooked and they take all day to cook (after being soaked).
    –Make one quarter or, at most, one half of the recipe–the standard recipe is just way too much. If you can ferment the soybeans outside, say in an old microwave oven with the interior light turned-on , do it. Again, for the smell.
    –Buy some of the frozen version first, and see if you can past the taste, texture, and smell. Have some of that spicy mustard around when you try it.

    If you have circulation problems, you might want to look up a Dr. David Williams article about natto. He says natto works better than the $7,000 per dose drug they give to patients who’ve had a stroke in the hospital. I made the natto for my 94 year old who suddenly began having a lot of trouble walking. We thought if it improved his circulation, it would help with the walking. Sadly, it didn’t. He would eat the natto though. At the time, I thought it completely repulsive. The nasty thing in every way. I’ve had it since few times–if you cover up the taste, you can get it down.

  8. Emma says:

    The trick with natto is DO NOT STIR it. Everything you read online will talk about gooey slime that results from stirring. This may be the way little Japanese kids learn to eat it but it does not change its nutritional value. There is no need to stir it.

    Another trick is to buy the chopped kind, called ‘hikiwari’. It looks more like rice crispies so…better. In the freezer section of your Asian grocery.

    The taste is a little earthy but it is less pungent than peanut butter, beer, parmesan cheese, onions, and garlic, for instance. In fact, I sometimes eat a plate of rice with the chopped kind of natto, some dijon, soy sauce, green onions and…a glass of beer. There is nothing repellent about the natto in that situation. I am North American, non-Japanese and prepared this way, most people could eat it fairly easily. But DO NOT STIR!!

  9. Marc says:

    Nice!
    I add condiments and green onions among other crunchy things like croutons with my natto in the morning.
    I wrote an article on my natto experience here. Check it out. http://foodstochew.com/my-week-with-natto-san/

  10. Anita says:

    Easy to make your own if interested. Takes a few tries to get the hang but well worth it. http://earthlychow.com/miracle-food-from-japan-easy-homemade-natto

  11. Lori says:

    I was so fearful of natto that I finally asked my Japanese acupuncturist to stand by while I tried it for the first time. And actually… it wasn’t bad. I make no effort to cover up the taste or texture–I put the little condiments in, stir it up, and eat it right out of the container every week or so. This is mostly a head trip. If no one had told me it smells like ‘dirty socks’ I would have thought it smelled fine and tasted like a little bit salty bean dip.

  12. Wendy says:

    I prefer to make my own natto using black beans. I use frozen natto (available at Asian markets) as the inoculant. I’ve enjoyed learning to make natto and don’t mind the taste and smell which I would describe as a cross between Limburger and blue cheese. Since I like both of these cheeses (I’m part Swiss from WI), natto wasn’t such a stretch. Another thing about natto is that you don’t need to eat very much to get a generous amount of Vit K2. The frozen single serving packets are about 3 tablespoons. Unfortunately it didn’t take too long for me to discovered that I’m sensitive to the high histamine levels in natto. So now my husband eats the natto I make (plain or over a little rice with chopped scallions or topped with a soft boiled egg) and I take Vit K2 as a supplement.

  13. Maggie says:

    I really dislike the stringy texture and smell of Natto. So I tried it frozen. Cut it up into small pieces and ate it frozen. Does it still have the same benefits? I realize the bacteria is dormant frozen and not sure what happens if I eat it frozen. At least frozen I can handle it.
    Thanks for any comments 🙂

    • DrKaayla says:

      I haven’t seen any research on that. No reason to eat natto if you don’t like it. A great source of K2 is Pure Indians Foods grass-fed ghee.

  14. Dr. Zook says:

    Wow! Good job on making a very healthy food sound utterly unappealing? I the medical profession and drug companies giving you some payola to spread this propaganda?

    Millions if people eat nattou for its health benefits as well as its taste. My wife discovered nattou on a trip to Japan, we love it and eat it about three times per week mixed in plain steamed rice. We think it is delicious.

    No doubt you will delete this post because it does not align with your agenda.

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