While natto is more obscure than other popular Japanese foods, it still has a significant following.
The dish, made from fermented soybeans, is what you might call an “acquired taste,” though it does offer numerous health benefits.
If you love natto and want to make it at home, you can do so even without a starter.
The process is understandably long, but once you learn to make natto without a starter, you never have to search for it in stores again.
You’ll need an instant pot with “bean” and “yogurt” functions, a thin cotton towel, and some fresh or frozen natto.
It’s a pretty straightforward process, but each step requires meticulous attention. Read on to learn how to make natto without starter.
Can Natto Be Made Without Starter?
Natto can be made without a starter, but many people choose to include it anyway to achieve better consistency.
But before we get into how to make natto without a starter, it’s vital to understand what a starter is in the first place.
When discussing fermented foods, the term “starter” is unsurprising.
Every type of starter is a high concentration of a specific bacterial culture that promotes fermentation.
As a result, these starters, including the one used for natto, are free of pathogenic bacteria like salmonella.
Their purpose is to expedite the fermentation process and create a great taste.
Foods like kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi, and natto are usually made with starters.
While you can purchase natto starters at Asian markets and some online stores, many prefer to make natto without it.
When making natto without a starter, you need a certain amount of fresh or frozen, already fermented natto.
How Is Natto Starter Made?
The natto starter you find in markets is usually a high-quality culture, processed industrially and packaged for export.
While there are exceptions, most natto starter packs have been prepared in Japan and sent to different countries, including the U.S.
Again, these natto starters have been tested to ensure health and safety and are made from the best soybeans.
It’s also important to note that natto starters are gluten- and dairy-free because natto is an inherently vegan dish.
You may notice that natto starter culture is sold in small batches, usually, less than half an ounce, which is more than enough for a large batch of natto.
When making natto at home without a starter, you don’t prepare the culture separately; instead, the preparation process creates it. But more on that later.
Can You Make Natto From Store-Bought Natto?
You can definitely make homemade natto from store-bought natto.
In fact, that’s the only way you can prepare it at home without a starter.
But compared to having the starter to ensure the fermentation process is successful, making it without a starter is a bit risky.
That’s why it’s essential to consider a few elements before proceeding.
Rule number one is that you should never use natto that has been opened and consumed for fermentation.
If you have leftover natto in the fridge from yesterday’s snack, don’t waste time using it to make natto from scratch without a starter.
The same applies to defrosting frozen natto and leaving it unattended at room temperature for too long.
These actions risk contamination and will likely prevent complete fermentation and undoubtedly ensure your natto doesn’t have an authentic taste.
Step by Step: How to Make Natto Without Starter
Learning to make natto without a starter would be pointless if you don’t have access to the necessary equipment.
Here’s a brief checklist to keep in mind before moving forward:
- Instant pot with “bean” and “yogurt” functions
- Cheesecloth or thin cotton towel
- A colander
- A spatula
Once you’re sure you have all the right tools, ensure every ingredient is on hand too:
- Approximately 15 ounces of dried soybeans
- Between 1.5 and 2 ounces of frozen or fresh natto
When you cross everything off the checklist, you can start making homemade natto without a starter.
Here’s a complete step-by-step guide.
Take it out of the freezer the night before and put it in the refrigerator to naturally defrost.
If you’ve purchased a new box or jar of natto, ensure it stays in the fridge until it’s time to include it in the recipe.
Rinse the dried soybeans well and pour them into the instant pot.
Check the soybeans in the colander and remove any unwanted elements.
Pour around two to three times the specified amount of water over the soybeans.
Before you start cooking, there should be at least an inch of water above the soybeans.
Cover the instant pot and press the “bean” button on the control panel.
Set the time for 45 minutes.
While the soybeans are cooking, use the time to sanitize the spatula to avoid any cross-contamination.
When the instant pot is done, allow the pressure to subside naturally before removing the beans.
This usually takes less than 20 minutes.
Do your best to strain the excess water from the pot as fast as possible, and promptly return the soybeans to the pot.
Quickly add the prepared amount of natto and stir the pot’s contents gently but thoroughly.
After completing this step, cover the bowl with the cheesecloth or cotton towel, and close the pot.
This cloth will prevent water from dripping into soybeans.
Press the “yogurt” function on the instant pot and set it for 24-hour mode.
If you’ve followed the steps correctly, you’ll see the white biofilm on top of the soybeans, indicating a successful fermentation process.
Tips for Making Natto Without Starter
We’ve touched on a few essential points already, but it’s important to reiterate them and add a few more important considerations.
When making natto without a starter, here’s what you should keep in mind:
- Only use fresh or defrosted natto that hasn’t been contaminated.
- Try to buy high-quality soybeans to ensure the process goes smoothly.
- If you don’t have an instant pot, consider borrowing it from a friend or investing in one if you plan to make natto again.
- Don’t add anything else, including salt, oil, or other ingredients, when making natto.
- When your natto is prepared, ensure it cools down before storing it in the fridge.
Some might find that making natto at home is pointless as you can have the real deal for a relatively affordable price.
But in some areas of the country, getting your hands on natto isn’t so easy.
Ordering it online is risky because it doesn’t have a long shelf life.
That’s why learning how to make natto without a starter is the ultimate cheat sheet.
One batch can go a long way, as this is a delicacy that most people enjoy in smaller quantities.