What exactly is Natto (なっとう)?

Dating a Japanese man has allowed me to try many interesting foods. One popular one for the Japanese is “Natto.” What is it? The short answer: Smelly disgusting fermented soybeans.

I am not a picky eater and have tried many things; often deciding I enjoy the taste of each. Natto is the one thing that I have tried and actually can’t stand. I’m not sure it should even be called “food.” Yohei tells me that, although it can be eaten at anytime, the Japanese tend to eat it for breakfast. We are able to easily find Natto at an asian market in Kansas City.  You can usually find it in the freezer section and will have different brands to choose from.
natto 7natto 4We’ve tried a few different brands but Yohei always buys a Japanese one. If you do decide to try it then you’ll need to keep it in the freezer until you’re ready to eat it. Each styrofoam container is equal to one serving so each person eating it will need one. (package comes with 3 or 4 servings. It just depends on the brand.)

It’s technically fermented soybeans mixed with a bacteria called Bacillus natto. It is actually high in protein and considered highly nutritious, however, it smells horrible. The best way I can explain it: it smells like feet. Feet that have been in shoes without socks for an extended period of time. The smell is VERY strong. When I tried it, half the problem I faced was honestly trying to somehow mentally block out the smell while eating. Also, the texture can be a bit disturbing to some people. I’m not one to be bothered by texture so it doesn’t bother me, but to many it is too gross. It is slippery and CRAZY sticky. I’ll show pictures below and try to show a video too.

First, most people tend to eat it with rice so you’ll want to prepare that ahead of time and put your rice serving in a bowl. natto 5natto 6Then, remove your styrofoam natto portion from the freezer and open it. Remove the plastic sheet covering it and discard. Yes, it’s sticky. Natto usually comes with two small packages. You’ll need to open these and add them to the beans. One is soy sauce and the other is some kind of yellow cause. I think some sort of Japanese mustard. Yohei only uses the soy sauce though so I’m not sure. Maybe taste each of them first to see if you like them enough to add them. (Personally though, I don’t think there’s a sauce in the entire world that could possibly help the taste of natto.)

Natto 2natto 3



Next, you’ll have to use a fork or chopsticks to stir the beans. Just stir it until it is mixed well. Then add the entire mixture to the top of your rice.

Natto 1

That’s pretty much it. Eat it however you want. I personally mixed it up with the rice because I was desperate to find a way to help the taste. Nothing really helps though. Yohei LOVES natto though!! Who knows, maybe you will too!


Just for fun – Below is a link to a video. Yohei is just stirring his natto so that you can see what it looks like.