If you’ve ever tried fermented foods like kimchi, then you may have heard of natto. Natto is a traditional Japanese dish that’s made from fermented soybeans.
It’s known for being a superfood and is easily recognizable by its strong, earthy smell and sticky, goo-like texture. I recently had the chance to try some myself! So, what does natto taste like?
Despite its slightly sour aroma, natto tastes very earthy. It’s kind of like somebody mixed old brie cheese with coffee and onion. Depending on how long it’s fermented, natto can have a lighter flavor or a very strong, bitter flavor.
Natto’s unique taste and texture come from its involved fermentation process, which gives the soybeans an alkaline property and a gooey texture. If you’ve ever wanted to try natto (or just wondered what it’s all about), then this is the post for you!
Below, I’ll give you my in-depth experience of natto’s flavor, explain how it’s made, the best way to eat natto, and show you why many physicians regard it as a superfood. It’s time to take your tastebuds to a whole new world…
The first time I heard of natto was on a recent trip to San Francisco. After a friend recommended it to me, I decided to stop by a small authentic Japanese restaurant called Super Mira to try this “natto” that was supposedly so good.
My friend had explained to me that it was a traditional Japanese dish made from fermented soybeans and told me that natto is incredibly healthy and vegan. So, I figured, “Why not?” I had no idea what to expect, and I’m always down to try new vegan cuisine.
I could smell it long before I laid eyes on it, and knew I was in for a unique experience…
The closest thing I can compare natto to is old cheese. It had an extremely savory, salty, umami taste that reminded me of the time I sprinkled too much nutritional yeast on my beans.
If you enjoy kimchi (Korean fermented cabbage), then you’ll probably enjoy natto. Although the fermentation process for each is a bit different, it produces a slightly similar flavor.
The natto I ordered was served in a bowl with some fresh white rice and garnish. I was informed that this is the traditional way it’s served and that the rice helps balance out the extreme flavor of the natto. I ended up asking for extra rice.
Overall, my experience was… interesting. I can’t say that I’d voluntarily order natto again, as the flavor ended up being way too strong for me. That being said, it wasn’t that bad.
I just feel like it’s an acquired taste that would require me to eat a lot more (something I wasn’t willing to do). I’m glad I finally got the chance to try it, though, and it’s an experience worth writing about!
My personal distaste of natto aside, the food itself is quite fascinating. As I mentioned, natto is a simple dish that’s made from fermented soybeans.
As the soybeans are being cooked, healthy bacteria is added to the mixture, which helps to “pre-digest” the beans and breaks them down, giving natto its signature stickiness.
Natto is a simple, healthy dish that’s typically served with rice. Depending on where you get your natto from, you may find milder natto (typically fermented for 24 hours) or stronger-tasting natto that’s been fermented for longer.
The longer that the soybeans are allowed to ferment, the more the bacteria multiplies and breaks down the beans, causing the smell and flavor to intensify.
As I mentioned, one of the first things you’ll notice about natto is how slimy it is. Not to gross you out, but it kind of made me think of dinosaur snot! That being said, this sticky film is completely healthy to eat and is what gives natto its savory umami flavor.
The stickiness comes from the bacteria that are used to ferment the natto, and is a protective “biofilm” that keeps the bacteria safe from the elements. Keep on reading to find out how the fermentation process works…
Fermentation is the process whereby bacteria begin to break down food. This happens naturally when you leave food out for long.
So, what’s the difference between that sandwich you left out that went bad and healthy fermented foods? Well, it all depends on the type of bacteria. In nature, fermentation typically involves multiple types of bacteria, some of them “good” and most of them “bad.”
Therefore, in order to make fermented food like natto edible, it must be prepared using only “good” bacteria that agree with our stomach.
Bacillus subtilis is the starter bacteria used to create natto. What makes B. subtilis so special is that it can withstand high heat and pressure that kills almost all other bacteria.
This means that the soybeans can be cooked under heat and temperature that kills the bad bacteria while leaving behind the unharmed B. subtilis spores.
Once the soybeans have been purified, the B. subtilis has no other bacteria to compete with and can quickly multiply and break down the soybeans.
The purified soybeans are then covered and left in a hot, humid environment for one full day, until they’re packaged and ready to be served.
So, back to the main topic – why is natto sticky?
As the B. subtilis multiplies, it creates a sticky layer of “biofilm” to protect itself from the outside elements. The biofilm primarily consists of a chemical called polyglutamate.
The polyglutamate ages and leaves traces of glutamate behind, which is the primary molecule that our taste buds perceive as “savory” or “umami” flavors.
Without the sticky, somewhat nasty-looking biofilm, natto wouldn’t have its iconic taste. That’s why restaurants make no effort to clean the film off or remove it before serving you a sticky bowl of natto.
For a full breakdown of how natto is made and processed by our bodies, check out this awesome short by PBS:
Natto is incredibly healthy and many nutritionists call it a superfood! Here’s why:
|Natto Superfood Ingredient||Affect On The Human Body|
|Vitamin K2||Vitamin K2 helps to build and repair our bones. It helps our bodies process calcium and transports the calcium deposits to our bones, allowing them to heal and grow faster.|
|Bacillus Subtilis||This is the key bacteria used to ferment natto. It’s regarded as a “good” gut bacteria and serves as a natural probiotic, which can aid in digestive health.|
|Nattokinase||During the fermentation process, an enzyme called nattokinase is released into the food. When consumed, this enzyme acts as a natural blood thinner, which may prevent blood clots and protect you from heart disease. One study even showed that it can help combat COVID-19! ***|
These statements have not been approved by the FDA and are not intended to cure, prevent, or treat any disease.
The best way to eat natto is with rice. This is the way that it’s traditionally served in Japanese cuisine. If you’re feeling bold, though, then you can try to eat the natto by itself. Personally, I found that natto is borderline inedible without rice, though.
Natto will eventually go bad after several months. If you plan on keeping natto, it should be kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator. If left outside of the refrigerator, bad bacteria may be introduced, which can make it go bad faster.
Keep in mind that the longer you leave natto in the refrigerator, the more the B. subtilis will multiply, giving the natto a stronger, more pronounced flavor. Eventually, it will become so strong that you won’t want to eat it anymore.
Although I don’t enjoy natto all that much, I recommend that you try it at least once and make your own judgment. You never know, you might just like it!
Not only is natto extremely healthy for you, but it’s also 100% vegan and is a great way to get a fix for savory flavors without eating meat, cheese, or other animal-derived foods.
Another great way to experience a savory, umami flavor profile as a vegan is with nutritional yeast.
This affordable, easy-to-find powder is a staple in my kitchen and I use it as a seasoning and topping for anything that I want to give a “cheesy” flavor to.
To find out which ones I use the most, check out this post on my favorite nutrition yeast brands!