Captivatingly sticky, earthy in flavor, and filled with gut-friendly fiber and plant protein, nattō isn’t always discovered by those just getting into Japanese cuisine, but it should be. This traditional dish is made from fermenting soybeans, which creates its distinctively stretchy, tender texture; if you’ve tried it, you’ll know exactly what we mean. The beans cling to one another with a cheese pull-like texture that makes playing with your food feel (almost) socially acceptable. Nattō's unique appearance will reel you in, but its nutty, mild, roasted coffee-like flavor is what will keep you coming back for more.
Though this food may be new to many Americans, in Japan, eating this dish is as common as having a bowl of cereal for breakfast. So what's prompted its sudden popularity stateside? TikTok, of course. Recently, nattō has gained tons of attention via viral TikTok videos starring the hypnotic-to-watch food—seriously, it's an ASMR-lover’s dream—proven by the fact that the TikTok hashtag #natto has over 88M views from creators from all around the world. You'll find the hosts performing wildly entertaining first-experience taste tests, sharing different ways to prepare the dish, and (mostly), epic loops of TikTokers mesmerizingly scooping up, stretching, and stirring nattō with chopsticks. When it comes to this food, eyes eat first.
My recommendation? Start with a taste of nattō as-is, then move on to pairing it with tasty toppings like spicy Japanese mustard, eggs, and tamari for a flavorful afternoon snack that's packed with health benefits. And if you’re looking to impress one of your Japanese friends, this is one guaranteed way to do so.
Get to know nattō better with this full rundown on its history, ways to cook it, and why it’s good for your health.
How did nattō originate?
Believed to have originated centuries ago, the exact birthdate of nattō remains a contested subject. Some historians believe that this fermented food was created by accident when Hachiman-taro Yoshiie, the chief of a samurai legion, traveled by horseback with leftover boiled soybeans wrapped in straw in A.D. 1083. As the days passed, the soybeans became viscous due to the fermentation induced by the bacteria found in the straw. Others believe that this ancient food co-developed in multiple locations throughout Asia like China, Korea, and Japan, as soybeans were considered ubiquitous in all of these nations. Regardless of where and when it first appeared, nattō has remained a part of the daily diets of citizens living in all of these parts of the world.
How to make nattō from scratch
Though you can find ready-to-eat nattō at most Japanese or Asian markets, you can make it at home as well. To prepare the dish efficiently, I recommend purchasing one of the pre-prepared nattō products to use as a fermentation starter for a larger batch. Similar to the process of making kombucha that also requires a starter like SCOBY, nattō relies on spores that derive from healthy bacterium cultures like Bacillus subtilis.
Recently, TikToker @okonomikitchen broke down the process of making homemade nattō in a viral video that's gained over 827K views and over 146K likes. In the ASMR-style clip, Lisa Kitahara highlights the dish’s gooey texture. She starts by soaking soybeans in a pot of water overnight until they’re plump; next, she transfers the drained beans into a pressure cooker and cooks them until they're tender.
She then transfers the drained beans into a sterilized container, where she introduces small portions of the starter to kick off the fermentation process. After covering the batch with clean paper towels, Kitahara tightly wraps it with plastic wrap and rubber bands and places the container in a climate-controlled area at about 104°F for 24 hours. Finally, she transfers the beans into the refrigerator to continue to ferment for another 24 hours. As the beans begin to age, their pale yellow hue should darken into a warm caramel color.
Once the second fermentation is complete, the nattō is ready to consume and can hold in the fridge for up to two days. Pro tip: store the beans in pre-portioned containers to enjoy later. To test the quality, when agitated or swirled in a circular motion with chopsticks, the beans should maintain a web-like consistency—this indicates a strong and well-made homemade batch. You can check out Kitahara’s full video here.
@okonomikitchenSave 💰 with homemade natto 🥰 #natto #fermented #foodasmr #takeabite #healthyfood♬ original sound - Lisa Kitahara 🍡
Also, if you’re pressed for time and the craving has struck, ready-to-eat nattō is available for purchasing online via Weee! (an online Asian and Hispanic specialty market), Yami (an online Asian food store), or on Amazon.
How to serve nattō
TikTok aside, nattō is a traditional Japanese food typically eaten for breakfast over a bowl of steamed white rice. Many nattō eaters also add ingredients like spicy mustard, thinly-sliced scallions, soy sauce, tare (aka flavored soy sauce), and/or a soft-cooked egg to season the dish. Other ways to eat the fermented soybeans include serving it in a hand roll, dolloping over silken tofu, or even adding it to a bowl of warm miso soup.
For a perfectly-balanced dish, I recommend pairing mild, earthy nattō with acidic, tangy, or aromatic flavors from ingredients like kimchi, tamari, or perilla leaves. When introduced to more robust flavor profiles like those mentioned above, the signature nattō taste becomes more subdued and helps to elevate the vibrant taste of the added ingredients.
The health benefits of nattō, according to an RD
As if you needed one more reason to try nattō, I'll remind you that this dish boasts a bounty of health benefits. According to registered dietitian and Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Roxana Ehsani, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN, nattō is considered a powerful probiotic food that's packed with the 'good' type of gut bacteria that helps supports your microbiome. “A healthy gut microbiome has been shown to reduce inflammation in the body, support a healthy immune system, and may help relieve gastrointestinal issues such as constipation or diarrhea,” Ehsani says.
Nattō also contains a whopping 31 grams of protein and nine grams of fiber per cup. Ehsani recommends that women consume about 25 grams of fiber per day; 38 grams of fiber per day for men, and points out that “many people fall short on consuming enough dietary fiber daily, which is a shame as fiber can help with satiety, keep bowel movements regular, and even lower cholesterol.” Adding nattō to your meals is one excellent way to pack more fiber into your diet.
Finally, Ehsani adds that nattō is the ideal plant-based protein because it also serves as a solid source of potassium, magnesium, iron, calcium, zinc, selenium, manganese, vitamin K, copper, and even vitamin C. “These vitamins and minerals support heart health, the immune system, and bone health,” Ehsani explains.
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