Natto (納豆)

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    Natto is one of those traditional Japanese fermented foods. It is one of the healthy Japanese food in Japan. Most locals love this and have enjoyed eating it. It makes up of soybeans and has natto bacteria as a fermentation agent to soybeans. It also uses a boiled rice straw as the source of fermentation bacteria.

    Some thought that this is unique to Japan, but it exists in other regions. The home of Natto is in Ibaraki prefecture in the Kanto region. Ibaraki Prefecture is part of the Kanto region on the main island of Honshu. It is accessible via car (a 1.5-hour drive from Tokyo). Along with Stamina Ramen, Natto is one of those specialties of Ibaraki prefecture. Here, we can get to know what Natto is and what dishes do Japanese people cook with it.



    There are several theories as to why they named it as it is. In the past, Monks who prepare and eat Natto in the temple kitchen came up with the name of Nashomame (なっしょまめ). Afterward, they shortened it to “Natto.” The second theory is that in the old days, locals made soybeans in rice straw. 

    Also, they stored it in containers such as tubs and jars. The word “natto” also first appeared in the literature during the Heian period. It depicts popular performing arts and the lives of ordinary people at that time. It appears in the “Shinsarugakuki” by Fujiwara no Akiyoshi. However, the book discusses the salted natto. It is a fermented boiled soybean with Jiuqu, adding salt and spices and drying it.

    Lastly, a theory about it being a gift for God. Bacteria in the boiled beans living in rice straw accidentally bred while serving it on the Kamidana shelf. Subsequently, the beans created strings by chance. In northern countries, the meaning of “Natto” is the beans in the ritual of giving beans to God, in gratitude to the God who gave us delicious food.



    Natto is a traditional Japanese food and a specialty of Ibaraki prefecture. It is one of those fermented foods using natto bacteria as a fermentation agent to soybeans. The bacteria decompose the ingredients and synthesize them with different ones to give its taste and stickiness

    Consequently, there are various types of Natto according to their size and color. It has different varieties and characteristics depending on the regions. In the Japanese culture, they have many dishes that use this as their main ingredients. In fact, it is smelly, and if you mix the beans, they form a kind of glue-like paste with long stringy bits. Some say that mixing the beans 100 times will bring you good luck. It is usually put on top of rice and eats it as a side dish, with a raw egg or some spring onions.



    It makes the Natto into a sweeter type by boiling the beans with sugar.

    Itohiki natto

    It is familiar for Japanese to have it together with rice. It has two types; whole soybean natto and hikiwari natto.

    Tera Natto

    Also known as Betsumei or Shiokara Natto, contains soybeans, wheat, and Jiuqu (same as miso and sake-making bacteria). It takes several months to a year to make it. When it is complete, it will be half-dried blackish brown. It has a unique flavor that is a harmony of salty taste and umami.




    During the Jomon period, the Japanese discovered soybeans from mainland China. Subsequently, around the Yayoi period, rice cultivation began and became widespread. However, no one knows whether the origin of the Natto dates back to that time. Many locals dispute its history stories, but in any case, it is the encounter between boiled beans and straw that triggers it all.


    During 1086-1088 AD when some samurai were boiling soybeans to eat when they are suddenly attack. They hurriedly pack up their beans in some straw and open it a few days later to discover it fermented. They ate them anyway and showed them to their boss, and everyone seemed to have liked it enough to recreate it. 

    Another theory about the rice straw was during the Yayoi period when the rice straw was on the pithouse floor. Bacillus natto is the fermentation agent, and it prefers warm and moist places. Therefore, rice straw with excellent heat retention and moisturizing properties is a suitable habitat for the bacteria.


    Many also know about Taro Hachiman Yoshiie in the theory of the origin of the Natto. The Yawata Taro Yoshiie is Minamoto no Yoshiie, a military commander in the late Heian period. He went on an expedition to Oshu (now the Tohoku region) and fought for the battle. Horses were indispensable for the war at that time, and they make use of soybeans as feed for them. 

    They boiled, dried, packed soybeans in bales. However, the battle prolonged longer than they expected, and as a result, the horses’ feed ran out. Yoshiie hurriedly ordered the farmers to offer soybeans as feed. The farmers did not cool the boiled soybeans well but packed them in a bale while still hot and fed them to the horses. Then, a few days later, the boiled beans became smelly and were stringing. This boiled bean was delicious when they tried it, so they decided to use it as food for the soldiers. 

    In the present, you can easily buy it in styrofoam packs, complete with servings of soy sauce and mustard.



    The ordinary recipe that goes well with it are spices such as green onions, green perilla, ginger, sesame seeds, and chirimen-jako. It goes well with eggs. For its seasonings, stir-fried foods, pasta, etc. 



    Glutamic Acid acts as an agent that causes the stickiness of Natto. This glutamic acid results from the decomposition of protein by Natto bacteria and fructan (a type of sugar). It is also one of the delicious ingredients contained in kelp.


    Steaming the rice wrapped.

    Traditionally, locals steamed the soy rice wrapped in a straw wrapper. They have to keep it like that for one day and at a temperature of about 40 degrees.

    Natto Bacteria will transfer.

    The Bacillus natto on the rice straw will be transfer to soybeans and proliferates for the fermentation to happen.


    Boil the soybeans.

    In the present day, you can also make this at home. All you need is thoroughly boiled soybeans. The temperature should be around (30-45 degrees) for the bacteria to grow.

    Making the temperature right.

    It should also have moderate humidity, an average time (1 to 2 days), and enough oxygen. Without proper temperature, sufficient time, and oxygen, you cannot make a perfect Natto and it will remain boiled. If there is no moderate humidity, it will become dried soybeans, and if it has an excessive time, the smell of ammonia will be strong, mostly like it is rotten.

    We can make the Natto right now, but it can also be eaten by making different dishes out of it. There are also some restaurants that serve this. You will learn that on the next page.

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