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Natto typically is eaten on rice

Nattō (なっとう or 納豆?) is a traditional Japanese food made from soybeans fermented with Bacillus subtilis var. natto.[1] Some eat it as a breakfast food.[2] Nattō may be an acquired taste because of its powerful smell, strong flavor, and slimy texture.[3][4][5][6][7] In Japan nattō is most popular in the eastern regions, including Kantō, Tōhoku, and Hokkaido.[8]


Sources differ about the earliest origin of nattō. The materials and tools needed to produce nattō commonly have been available in Japan since ancient times. There is also the story about Minamoto no Yoshiie who was on a battle campaign in northeastern Japan between 1086 AD and 1088 AD when one day they were attacked while boiling soybeans for their horses. They hurriedly packed up the beans, and did not open the straw bags until a few days later, by which time the beans had fermented. The soldiers ate it anyway, and liked the taste, so they offered some to Yoshiie, who also liked the taste. It is even possible that the product was discovered independently at different times.

One significant change in the production of nattō happened in the Taishō period (1912–1926), when researchers discovered a way to produce a nattō starter culture containing Bacillus subtilis without the need for straw. This simplified production and permitted more consistent results.

Appearance and consumption[edit]

Opening and stirring a container of nattō

The first thing one notices after opening a pack of nattō is its distinctive smell, somewhat akin to a pungent cheese.[original research?] Stirring the nattō produces lots of sticky strings.[1]

Nattō is occasionally used in other foods, such as nattō sushi, nattō toast, in miso soup, tamagoyaki, salad, as an ingredient in okonomiyaki, or even with spaghetti. Sometimes soybeans are crushed and fermented. This is called 'hikiwari nattō'.

Many non-Japanese find the taste unpleasant and smelly, while others relish it as a delicacy. Nattō is more popular in some areas of Japan than in others. Nattō is known to be popular in the eastern Kantō region, but less popular in Kansai. A 2009 internet survey in Japan indicated 70.2% of respondents like nattō and 29.8% do not, but out of 29.8% who dislike nattō, about half of them eat nattō for its health benefits.[9]

Production process[edit]

Soybeans in a plantation

Nattō is made from soybeans, typically nattō soybeans. Smaller beans are preferred, as the fermentation process will be able to reach the center of the bean more easily. The beans are washed and soaked in water for 12 to 20 hours to increase their size. Next, the soybeans are steamed for 6 hours, although a pressure cooker may be used to reduce the time. The beans are mixed with the bacterium Bacillus subtilis, known as nattō-kin in Japanese. From this point on, care must to be taken to keep the ingredients away from impurities and other bacteria. The mixture is fermented at 40 °C (104 °F) for up to 24 hours. Afterward the nattō is cooled, then aged in a refrigerator for up to one week to allow the development of stringiness.

In Natto making facilities, these processing steps have to be done by avoiding incidents in which soybeans are touched by workers. Even though workers use B. subtilis natto as the starting culture which can suppress some of other undesired bacterial growth, workers pay an extra-close attention not to introduce skin flora onto soy beans. [10]

To make nattō at home, a bacterial culture of B. subtilis is needed. B. subtilis natto is weak in lactic acid, so it is important to prevent lactic acid bacteria from breeding. Some B. subtilis natto varieties that are more odorless are usually less active, raising the possibility that minor germs will breed. Bacteriophages are dangerous to B. subtilis.

Historically, nattō was made by storing the steamed soybeans in rice straw, which naturally contains B. subtilis natto. The soybeans were packed in straw and left to ferment.

End product[edit]

Nattō is sold in small containers

Today's mass-produced nattō is sold in small polystyrene containers. A typical package contains two, three, or occasionally four containers, each 40 to 50 g. One container typically complements a small bowl of rice.

Natto has a different nutritional makeup from raw soy beans, losing Vitamin A and several other vitamins and minerals. However, the calorie content of natto is lower than that of raw soy beans. While soy beans are highly nutritious, the nutrition is packed in the bean's hard fiber. Natto includes the benefits of nutritious soy and softer dietary fiber without the high sodium content present in many other soy products, notably in miso. Natto contains no cholesterol and is a significant source of iron, calcium, magnesium, protein, potassium, vitamins B6, B2, E, K2 and more.[11][12] When Natto is mixed with egg and eaten with rice, Japanese call the dish a perfectly nutritious meal, covering all nutritional needs.

When Bacillus subtilis natto breaks up soy protein, the bacteria creates chains of polyglutamic acid, Gamma polyglutamic acid. This polypeptide chain is unusual in that the peptide bond is found between the nitrogen and the R-group’s carboxyl acid.[13]

Health benefits[edit]

The Japanese media frequently claim, especially on television health programmes, that nattō is health-enhancing and that these claims are backed by medical research.[original research?]

Medicinal isolates of nattō include pyrazine and tetramethylpyrazine. Pyrazine is a compound that, in addition to giving nattō its distinct smell, reduces the likelihood of blood clotting. It also contains a serine protease type enzyme called nattokinase[14] which also may reduce blood clotting both by direct fibrinolysis of clots, and inhibition of the plasma protein plasminogen activator inhibitor 1. This may help to avoid thrombosis, as for example in heart attacks, pulmonary embolism, or strokes.

An extract from nattō containing nattokinase is available as a dietary supplement. Studies have shown that oral administration of nattokinase in enteric capsules leads to a mild enhancement of fibrinolytic activity in rats and dogs.[15] It is, therefore, plausible to hypothesize that nattokinase might reduce blood clots in humans—although clinical trials have not been conducted. Another study suggests that Fibrinolysis Accelerating Substance (FAS) in natto is the substance which initiates fibrinolysis of clots, which accelerates the activity of not only nattokinase, but urokinase.[16]

A 2009 study in Taiwan indicated that the nattokinase in natto has the ability to degrade amyloid fibrils, suggesting that it might be a preventative or a treatment for amyloid-type diseases such as Alzheimer's.[17][18]

Natto is rich in vitamin K. It contains large amounts of Vitamin K2, which is involved in the formation of calcium-binding groups in proteins, assisting the formation of bone and preventing osteoporosis. Vitamin K1 is found naturally in leafy greens, seaweed, liver, and some vegetables, while vitamin K2 (Menatetrenone) is found in fermented food products such as cheese, miso, and Nattō.

According to a study, fermented soybeans, such as nattō, contain vitamin PQQ, which is important for the skin.[19] PQQ in human tissues is derived mainly from diet.

According to recent studies, polyamine suppresses excessive immune reactions, and nattō has a much larger amount of it than any other food.[20] Dietary supplements containing the substances extracted from natto such as polyamine, nattokinase, FAS, and vitamin K2 are available.

Nattō contains chemicals alleged to prevent cancer, for example, daidzein, genistein, isoflavone, phytoestrogen, and the chemical element selenium, however, most of these chemicals also may be found in other soybean products, and their effect on cancer prevention is uncertain.

Recent studies show nattō may have a cholesterol-lowering effect.[21]

Nattō's use as medicine against dysentery was researched by the Imperial Japanese Navy before World War II.[22]

Nattō is also sometimes used as an ingredient of pet food, and it is claimed that this improves the health of the pets.[23]

Ecological use[edit]

Natto’s polyglutamic acid is useful as an organic polymer coagulant. Polyglutamic acid is useful in making organic and inexpensive water cleaner products, PGα21Ca, sold as a powder.[24]

Close relatives of natto[edit]

Many countries produce similar traditional soybean foods fermented with Bacillus subtilis, such as shuǐdòuchǐ (水豆豉) of China, cheonggukjang (청국장) of Korea, thuanao (ถั่วเน่า) of Thailand, kinema of Nepal and the Himalayan regions of West Bengal and Sikkim, hawaijaar of Manipur, akhuni of Nagaland, piak of Arunachal Pradesh, India.[8][25]

In addition certain West African bean products are fermented with the bacillus, including dawadawa, sumbala, and iru, made from néré seeds or soybeans, and ogiri, made from sesame or melon seeds.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Hosking, Richard (1995). A Dictionary of Japanese Food - Ingredients and Culture. Tuttle. p. 106. ISBN 0-8048-2042-2. 
  2. ^ McCloud, Tina (7 December 1992). "Natto: A Breakfast Dish That's An Acquired Taste". Daily Press. Retrieved 25 December 2012. "It is a traditional soybean breakfast food from northern Japan and it's called natto. [...] As a breakfast food, natto is usually served over steamed rice and mixed with mustard and soy sauce." 
  3. ^ Katz, Sandor Ellix (2012). The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from Around the World. Chelsea Green Publish. pp. 328–329. ISBN 978-1603582865. "Natto is a Japanese soy ferment that produces a slimy, mucilagenous coating on the beans, something like okra. [...] The flavor of natto carries notes of ammonia (like some cheeses or overripe tempeh), which gets stronger as it ferments longer." 
  4. ^ A., M. (30 March 2010). "Not the natto!". Asian Food (The Economist). Retrieved 25 December 2012. "... natto, a food that has achieved infamy among Japan's foreign residents." 
  5. ^ Buerk, Roland (11 March 2010). "Japan opens 98th national airport in Ibaraki". BBC News. Retrieved 25 December 2012. "... natto, a fermented soy bean dish that many consider an acquired taste." 
  6. ^ "Natto Fermented Soy Bean Recipe Ideas". Japan Centre. Retrieved 25 December 2012. "Natto are one of those classic dishes that people either love or hate. Like Marmite or blue cheese, natto has a very strong smell and intense flavour that can definitely be an acquired taste." 
  7. ^ "Preparing Nattou". Massahiro. Retrieved 28 March 2013. "Preparing Nattou step by step, without using rice straw." 
  8. ^ a b Shurtleff, W.; Aoyagi, A (2012). History of Natto and Its Relatives (1405-2012). Lafayette, California: Soyinfo Center. 
  9. ^ NTT navispace 「納豆は好きですか?Do you like Natto?」 (in JA) reviewed 2012-12-8
  10. ^ "納豆が出来るまで。納豆の製造工程". Retrieved 2013-09-15. 
  11. ^ "Soybean Nutrition Facts, Soybean Facts". 2013-05-18. Retrieved 2013-09-15. 
  12. ^ "Natto - Nutritional Information". Retrieved 2013-09-15. 
  13. ^ "Google Translate". Retrieved 2013-09-15. 
  14. ^ Fujita M et al. (December 1993). "Purification and characterization of a strong fibrinolytic enzyme (nattokinase) in the vegetable cheese natto, a popular soybean fermented food in Japan". Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications 197 (3): 1340–1347. doi:10.1006/bbrc.1993.2624. PMID 8280151. 
  15. ^ Fujita M, Hong K, Ito Y, Misawa S, Takeuchi N, Kariya K, Nishimuro S. (September 1995). "Transport of nattokinase across the rat intestinal tract". Biological & pharmaceutical bulletin. 18 (9): 1194–1196. doi:10.1248/bpb.18.1194. PMID 8845803. 
  16. ^ Hiroyuki Sumi et al. (November 2000). "Determination and Properties of the Fibrinolysis Accelerating Substance(FAS) in Japanese Fermented Soybean "Natto"". Nippon Nogeikagaku Kaishi(Japanese). 74 (11): 1259–1264. doi:10.1271/nogeikagaku1924.74.1259. 
  17. ^ Soy Product Fights Abnormal Protein in Alzheimer's Disease
  18. ^
  19. ^ T Kumazawa, K Sato, H Seno, A Ishii, O Suzuki (April 1, 1995). "Levels of pyrroloquinoline quinone in various foods". Biochem. J. 307 (Pt 2): 331–333. PMC 1136652. PMID 7733865. 
  20. ^ Kuniyasu Soda, Yoshihiko Kano, Takeshi Nakamura, Keizo Kasono, Masanobu Kawakami and Fumio Konishi (July 2005). "Spermine, a natural polyamine, suppresses LFA-1 expression on human lymphocyte". Journal of Immunology 175 (1): 237–45. doi:10.4049/jimmunol.175.1.237. PMID 15972654. 
  21. ^ National Cardiovascular Center (Suita, Osaka, Japan) HuBit genomix, Inc. (Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, Japan; President and CEO: Go Ichien) NTT DATA Corporation (Koto-ku, Tokyo, Japan; President and CEO: Tomokazu Hamaguchi) Municipality of Arita, Saga Prefecture, Japan (Mayor: Masata Iwanaga) (April 2006). "Examining the Effects of Natto (fermented soybean) Consumption on Lifestyle-Related Diseases". Retrieved 2014-07-26. 
  22. ^ 有馬玄 (1937). "納豆菌ト赤痢菌トノ拮抗作用ニ関スル実験的研究(第2報)動物体内ニ於ケル納豆菌と志賀菌トノ拮抗作用". 海軍軍医誌 26: 398–419. 
  23. ^ "ドットわんフリーズドライ納豆". Retrieved 2007-03-20. 
  24. ^ "納豆菌から開発した水質浄化剤で開発途上国を支援(日本ポリグル株式会社・会長 小田兼利氏) | エヌ・ジェイ出版販売株式会社". 2012-03-16. Retrieved 2013-09-15. 
  25. ^ Arora, Ajello, Mukerji, et al. (1991). Handbook of Applied Mycology. CRC Press. p. 332. ISBN 0-8247-8491-X.