Sure, Natto Stinks, but It’s Good for You

Natto is an acquired taste for anyone. Even in Japan, aversion to the smelly, sticky fermented soybeans is so strong that foreign residents who like natto are often said to be “more Japanese than Japanese”.

Although relatively unknown outside Japan, for those on a vegan diet natto is a taste worth acquiring, because it’s really healthy: a probiotic rich in vitamins, especially B-12–which vegans often require dietary supplements in order to ensure they’re getting an ample supply.

Long before becoming vegan, I was eating natto stuffed into sushi hand-rolls, called “natto temaki” in Japanese. Wrapped in a sheet of nori, topped with a mound of sliced green onions and doused in wasabi soy-sauce, the aroma and texture of the natto is barely discernible (for a neophyte natto-eater, this is a blessing). You may even be able to find natto rolls in N. American sushi bars.

If you really want to get hard-core, try natto over a hot bowl of rice. Commerically available natto usually includes tiny packs of mustard and soy-based sauce (not vegan because it contains fish flakes–you may want to use soy sauce instead). Just mix everything together well, hold your nose, and dig in!

Lately, I’ve tried more and more recipes using natto, such as mixing it together with grated yama-imo (slimy mountain yams), or over grated daikon with soba–one of my favorite dishes in the summer months. I made the natto featured above after receiving some black soybeans from Hokkaido. If you can’t obtain natto near you, you can purchase the natto bacteria (bacillus natto) online and try to make it yourself, too!

To increase natto’s popularity, some manufacturers have begun to make natto snack foods including chocolate-covered natto and roasted and flavored (barbecue, curry, etc.) varieties. While these may be more palatable, you can bet they are not as healthy as the original.

If you have any questions about preparing natto at home, would like advice about using natto in cooking, or have any natto experiences to share, I’d love to receive your comments.

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