Cholesterol-free, loaded with calcium, protein, iron, magnesium, amino acids and vitamin K2, natto is an inexpensive, versatile super food. These fermented soy beans are likely familiar (notorious) to you if you’ve lived in Japan, and have been gaining attention abroad recently.
Natto As a Lesser Known Super Food
Natto, fits perfectly with the recent uptick in super foods. As it’s so common in Japan, it isn’t often put in the class of other super foods such as chia, quinoa, coconut oil and the like, but it has a remarkable array of health benefits, most notably in bone building and strengthening the cardiovascular system. It prevents kidney stones and hardening of the arteries.
Natto is Vegetarian Super-Friendly
Vegetarians and vegans would do well to work natto into their diets as a recommended serving contains 38% of the daily recommended amount of calcium compared to just 29% found in a serving of milk. It is far and away the best source of vitamin K2, up to one hundred times more than that which otherwise can only be found in meat and dairy products, mainly fatty organ meat, and butter and cheese.
Although it has come out that it is not the miracle weight-lose solution it was thought to be after a media boom a few years back, being an extremely low calorie food high in protein it is very filling and therefore helps in maintaining weight. It has however been proven to help in the elimination of Anyloid plaque which is a leading cause of Alzheimer’s disease.
Fermentation, Historically a Happy Accident
The origins of natto are not at all clear. But like most fermented foods, it seems to be born of an accident. The most common theory is that a group of samurai had boiled some beans when suddenly had to run of to battle. After returning they had found a pungent, slimy brown mass.
It has to be said that natto has a texture and aroma all it’s own. Fermentation is brought on by Bacillus Subtilis, more commonly called Nattokinase, and commercial sold as Natto starter. This is a bacteria which is naturally occurring in the human gut as well as ruminating animals. After fermented, the soy beans become bound together by a thick, viscous, stringy paste which has a look and smell which famously revolts almost all who first encounter it. Even roughly thirty percent of Japanese are put off by natto, but half of those eat natto anyway for health reasons. For myself it was an acquired taste and would sometimes leave the room when others dug in, however after years I often get cravings for natto.
Natto is Cheap and Cheerful
Natto is really cheap, starting at about $1 USD for a pack of three foam packs found at all supermarkets and convenience stores throughout the Japan. It is marginally more expensive at Japanese and Korean grocers abroad, and can be order relatively easily online as well recently. Though when ordering through the internet it most often arrives frozen, and must be brought back to room temperature before being eaten.
It can be made at home relatively easily and inexpensively, which is a viable choice if living outside of Japan. All you’ll need is soy beans, natto starter, and a way of maintaining a constant temperature range between 37 and 42 degrees for twenty-four hours. People have come up with quite inventive ways of doing this from hot water bottles to leaving in an oven with the light on.
Traditionally, natto is eaten at breakfast with karashi mustard and dashi, A bonito fish sauce which can be substituted with tamari for vegans. Packaged natto almost always comes with these. Stirred and served over steamed white rice sometimes with chopped green onion or a raw egg. Enjoyed this way, you are met with the full force of the smell and sticky texture. If this turns you off, don’t worry, there are a myriad of ways to use it.
There Are Many Ways to Enjoy Natto
The first way I was able to enjoy natto was in kimchi fried rice. This not only gets rid of the stringiness, the smell actually complemented by that of the kimchi. Plus this way you get two fermented foods in one dish! You can also spread it on bread, or better yet a tortilla, with some cheese and bake it in a toaster oven. It works great in yaki soba a meat substitute, where it takes on a crispiness and fantastic mouth feel. Put natto in your miso soup or pasta of your choice.
In a rising tide of high-priced gourmet super foods, natto is a cheap, cheerful way to bring a healthy gem that’s been used for hundreds of years into your diet. Get onboard and be creative.