If you’ve ever been to Japan, there’s a good chance you’ve at least heard of natto. Perhaps you even tried it while you were there. A unique food with an even more distinct flavor and texture, the Japanese swear by its reported health benefits. This is everything you need to know about this Japanese superfood and why you should consider including it in your daily routine.
Natto: The Japanese Fermented Superfood
Natto is a traditional Japanese food that has gained popularity worldwide for its unique flavor and impressive health benefits. Made from fermented soybeans, this superfood has a strong flavor and sticky texture that may take some getting used to. Its incredible nutritional profile, however, makes it worth a try. Let’s explore what natto is, where it comes from, how it is eaten, and delve into the various health benefits it offers. (1)
What is Natto?
Natto is a traditional Japanese food made by fermenting soybeans with the bacteria Bacillus subtilis var. natto. This process gives natto its distinct, sticky texture and strong aroma. It is enjoyed as a breakfast food, added to rice, or used as a topping or ingredient in various dishes. Natto is traditionally eaten with a small amount of soy sauce and Japanese mustard. The mixture is then stirred together to create a thick, creamy paste that can be spread on rice or used as an ingredient in other dishes.
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Origin of Natto
Natto has a long history in Japanese cuisine. It is believed to have originated in the Tohoku region of northern Japan around the 11th century. It was traditionally homemade, with families fermenting soybeans in straw or rice straw and allowing it to ferment naturally. Today, it is widely available in supermarkets and specialty stores across Japan and internationally.
Natto is one of many fermented soy products in Japanese cuisine. It is a traditional breakfast meal, including miso soup and rice. The dish is typically eaten with pickled vegetables called “tsukemono” and a bowl of steamed rice. The combination is called “okazu-yu” or “set meal” in English because it consists of several small dishes.
Unique Flavor and Texture
Natto is known for its strong, somewhat pungent aroma, often described as earthy, nutty, or cheese-like. Its texture is slimy and sticky, resembling that of okra or sticky rice. While the flavor and texture may not be appealing to everyone initially, they can be acquired tastes that develop over time. As a matter of fact, many people find that they like the unique taste and texture after eating natto for a while. It also helps that natto contains high amounts of vitamins, minerals, protein, and fiber. Natto is considered one of Japan’s healthiest foods because it has been linked to lower cholesterol levels and reduced risk of cancer.
Health Benefits of Natto
Natto is a good source of vitamin K, niacin, thiamine and riboflavin. It also contains high amounts of protein, fiber, and folic acid. These nutrients help to promote strong bones, healthy skin, and hair. Natto has been linked to lower cholesterol levels and reduced risk of cancer because it contains isoflavones that have antioxidant properties. Let’s dive into some of the specific reasons why natto is an incredible food for your health.
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1. Rich in Protein and Amino Acids
Natto is an excellent source of plant-based protein, making it a valuable food for vegetarians and vegans. It is also packed with essential amino acids, which are crucial for maintaining and growing body tissues. It is also a low-fat, high-fiber source of protein, making it a great choice for anyone attempting to lower cholesterol and/or lose weight. (2)
2. Probiotic Powerhouse
3. Heart-Healthy Nutrients
Natto is a fantastic source of vitamin K2, which helps prevent calcium buildup in the arteries, reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases. It also contains omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants that promote heart health. (4)
4. Bone Strength
Vitamin K2 in natto plays a crucial role in bone metabolism, enhancing calcium absorption and contributing to overall bone health. Regular consumption of natto may help reduce the risk of osteoporosis and fractures. (5)
5. Blood Pressure Regulation
Natto contains an enzyme called nattokinase, which has been shown to have blood-thinning properties and promote healthy blood circulation. This can help regulate blood pressure and reduce the risk of blood clots. (6)
6. Fights Inflammation
Natto contains a compound called pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ) that has anti-inflammatory properties. Regular consumption of natto may help reduce inflammation in the body and lower the risk of chronic diseases. (7)
The Bottom Line
Natto is a nutritious and unique food offering various health benefits. Despite its acquired taste and texture, it is worth exploring as an addition to a healthy and balanced diet. So why not try this Japanese fermented superfood and experience its many benefits for yourself?
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- “Natto Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits.” Very Well Fit. Malia Frey, M.A., ACE-CHC, CPT. January 3, 2021.
- “Nutritional Health Perspective of Natto: A Critical Review.” NCBI. Muhammad Afzaal,, et al. October 21, 2022.
- “Nattokinase: A Promising Alternative in Prevention and Treatment of Cardiovascular Diseases.” NCBI. Hongjie Chen, et al. July 5, 2018.
- “Effects of nattokinase on blood pressure: a randomized, controlled trial.” Pubmed. Ji Young Kim, et al. August 2008.