Nattō – Love it or hate it
By Franz Scheurer
Nattō is a Japanese obsession. It’s consumed in huge numbers, for breakfast, and often eaten at lunch or dinner. Nattō is a natural product, made from fermented soybeans. They use bacillus subtilis (also known as hay or grass bacillus), commonly found in soil. Nattō is very much an acquired taste as it is pungent and with such a slippery texture that takes many by surprise.
Nattō production is said to go back to the Jōmon period (10,000-300 BC) and similar, fermented soybean based products are made in China, Korea, Nepal and Thailand. Nattō is a rich source of protein and, once you have acquired a taste for it, unbelievably addictive. Nattō smells a little like a washed rind cheese and as you stir in the seasoning, usually mustard and soy sauce, the Nattō produces lots of sticky gossamer-like strings. In Japan Nattō is most popular in the eastern regions, including Kantō, Tōhoku, and Hokkaido.
Nattō is eaten many ways; as is, with seasoning described above, stirred furiously to make it even more slimy, then with rice, and accompanied by soy sauce, tsuyu broth, mustard, green onions, grated daikon, okra, or a raw quail egg. In Hokkaido and northern Tōhoku region, some people dust Nattō with sugar. Nattō is also commonly used in Nattō sushi, Nattō toast, in miso soup, salad, as an ingredient in okonomiyaki, or as fried Nattō. One of the most alluring dishes is Nattō filled into ‘aburaage’, a pouch made from thin tofu, deep-fried and served hot, drizzled with a couple of drops of honey. A dried form of Nattō, showing little odour or sliminess, can be eaten as a nutritious snack and there is even Nattō ice cream, both doing the real thing little or no justice.
You can buy Nattō from good Japanese shops, usually in the freezer section, and it will thaw within an hour, ready to be used. It is usually sold in portions, and in a stack of four portions. I was hooked on Nattō in Narita and found a few brands in Tokyo Mart in Northbridge. Each brand is slightly different in taste, and although I have a favourite, I think you should buy one of each of compare the difference. You may surprise yourself and like it.
Here’s to stinky, slimy Nattō!