Nattō (なっとう or 納豆?) is a traditional Japanese food made from soybeans fermented with Bacillus subtilis var. natto. Some eat it as a breakfast food. Nattō may be an acquired taste because of its powerful smell, strong flavor, and slimy texture. In Japan nattō is most popular in the eastern regions, including Kantō, Tōhoku, and Hokkaido.
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
Nattō has a distinctive smell, somewhat akin to a pungent cheese. Stirring nattō produces lots of sticky strings.
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 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.
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. 
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.
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. The calorie content of natto is lower than that of raw soy beans, however. 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. When Natto is mixed with egg and eaten with rice, Japanese call the dish a perfectly nutritious meal, covering all nutritional needs. Natto is the richest food source of natural K2 and perhaps, consumption of it is strongly associated with bone health.
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.
By mass, natto is 55% water, 18% protein, 11% fats, 5% fiber, and 5% sugars.
Close relatives of natto
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, "tungrymbai" of Meghalaya, hawaijaar of Manipur, akhuni of Nagaland, piak of Arunachal Pradesh, India.
Nattō gunkan maki (Nattō sushi)
- Amanattō – beans sweetened with sugar
- Fermented bean paste
- Japanese cuisine – Other fermented soy foods include soy sauce, Japanese miso, Chinese dòuchǐ (fermented black soybeans), fermented tofu and (a subcategory) chòu dòufu (stinky tofu), Korean doenjang, Meju, and cheonggukjang, Nepalese kinema, and Indonesian tempeh and oncom.
- List of fermented soy products
- List of soy-based foods
- Hosking, Richard (1995). A Dictionary of Japanese Food - Ingredients and Culture. Tuttle. p. 106. ISBN 0-8048-2042-2.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- "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.
- "Preparing Nattou". Massahiro. Retrieved 28 March 2013.
Preparing Nattou step by step, without using rice straw.
- Shurtleff, W.; Aoyagi, A (2012). History of Natto and Its Relatives (1405-2012). Lafayette, California: Soyinfo Center.
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- United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 27 Basic Report: 16113, Natto
- Natto nutritional values
- Arora, Ajello, Mukerji; et al. (1991). Handbook of Applied Mycology. CRC Press. p. 332. ISBN 0-8247-8491-X.
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