Everyone has their favorite superfood these days, whether it’s broccoli, salmon, or avocado.
For some, though, the superfood title belongs to natto, a traditional Japanese food made from fermented soybeans.
Natto is not a novelty food, as it has been around since ancient times. It’s known for its slimy texture and distinctive smell.
But what does natto taste like, you ask?
While the personal impression of natto’s flavor may vary, the general consensus is that it has a savory flavor, or umami, and is reminiscent of broth, meat, and some fish species. The flavor is often described as strong and pungent, with earthy, nutty, and slightly yeasty notes.
Natto might be an acquired taste for some, but it offers excellent health benefits.
Read on to learn more.
What Is Natto Made Of?
Fermented foods are all the rage, which is one reason why natto is considered a healthy food.
The production process of natto is pretty straightforward, but every step counts.
The first step is washing the soybeans and soaking them in water for up to 20 hours to increase their size.
After that, the soybeans are steamed for approximately six hours and mixed with the bacteria.
The fermentation process takes between 24 and 36 hours at around 100°.
Finally, the natto must cool down and be refrigerated for about a week, after which it’s ready for consumption.
Four Types of Natto
Natto is widely available in Japan and many Asian markets around the world.
However, if you’re planning to buy natto for the first time, remember that four natto types are commonly available.
The two most popular versions are XS and S, which refers to the soybean size.
These two sizes are pretty similar to the size of a large grain of rice.
But there’s also the M size, larger and typically chewier and closer in size to a white bean.
Finally, you may encounter the Hikiwari natto, or crushed natto, usually prepared for small children, as it’s easier to digest and has an overall softer texture.
How Does Natto Taste?
When one sees natto for the first time, it’s impossible to miss the stringiness created by the fermentation process.
In some ways, natto looks like beans mixed with melted cheese, and some would even argue that it tastes like gooey, aged cheese.
But what does natto taste like, really? The most accurate and broadest qualifier is that it tastes umami, which means “pleasant savory taste” in Japanese.
Umami is the fifth taste profile, along with salty, sweet, sour, and bitter.
It represents the taste of glutamate, a naturally occurring amino acid found in different foods.
Therefore, some might even argue that natto tastes brothy and meaty.
However, there has been anecdotal evidence that some find the taste of natto resembling truffles, which are more bitter and earthy.
How to Make Natto Taste Good
If you want to include natto in your diet but aren’t sure how to like natto due to its strong smell and distinctive taste, there are a few solutions you can try.
The Japanese eat natto for breakfast or lunch and purchase it in small packages with special sauce and mustard.
Mixing these ingredients delivers the traditional natto dish.
However, that’s not the only way you can eat natto, especially if you’re trying to build on its flavor.
Here are a few other ideas to consider.
Natto and Rice
Blend these ingredients if you’re unsure how to like natto but enjoy rice.
Popular additions to this combination are chopped scallions, cucumber, avocado, and bonito flakes.
Natto on Toast
If you want to eat natto for breakfast, adding it to your morning toast is a fantastic idea.
Butter your toast, put natto on it, add some cheese or mayo, and you’ll have an excellent, nutritious breakfast.
Another great way to eat natto for breakfast is to add it to your omelet.
You can mix natto with the eggs, add some salt and scallions, then pan-fry and enjoy.
Natto and Other Foods
While eating natto with rice, bread, and eggs is the traditional route, there are countless other ways to enjoy it.
For example, many choose to add natto to their sushi rolls or noodles, thus enriching these beloved dishes with nutrients and flavor.
You can also eat natto as a side dish with salmon or add it to your fresh salad.
The possibilities are endless, and combining it with different foods might help you enjoy the flavor more if you initially struggled with it.
What Does Natto Smell Like?
We’ve answered the “What does natto taste like?” question, but what about the smell?
It may come as a surprise, but some people find that natto smells like coffee mixed with alcohol.
Others find that it has a strong ammonia-like smell or reminds them of a nutty cheese.
However, the consensus is that the smell is pungent and takes some getting used to for many people.
What Does Natto Look Like?
We touched on this earlier, but natto generally resembles small beans mixed with a beaten egg white.
The small soybeans combined with fermented goo are an unusual sight for those unfamiliar with this type of food.
Some might find it appealing, and others off-putting.
Also, natto is traditionally served in small portions, with a serving size of three tablespoons, or around one and a half ounces.
Why Is Natto Sticky?
One of the first impressions of natto is the sliminess and stickiness around the soybeans.
But why is natto slimy? You might even think that this slimy substance is not good for you and that you shouldn’t eat it.
On the contrary, it’s perfectly healthy to consume it and is precisely what provides the natto with its umami flavor.
This sticky part of natto is a protective biofilm made by bacteria during fermentation.
Also, if you stir the natto thoroughly before eating it, you can enhance the umami flavor provided by the biofilm and enjoy it even more.
Does Natto Go Bad?
If you don’t store natto in the fridge after it has reached the optimal fermentation phase, it will continue to ferment.
Ultimately the smell and taste will become stronger, and natto will be inedible.
However, if you store it in the fridge, you can safely consume it for a week.
Can You Eat Natto Every Day?
You can eat natto every day, as it doesn’t have any side effects and is relatively healthy.
But it’s essential to remember that natto is not a low-calorie food with around 90 calories per serving.
Still, it’s packed with nutrients and suitable for people following all types of diets, including vegan and vegetarian.
Health Benefits of Natto
Natto has a unique flavor that some tolerate and others adore.
But natto has gained in popularity due to its many health benefits, particularly its richness in vitamin K2.
Many fermented foods are high in vitamin K2, and natto is at the top of that list.
This vitamin is essential for blood coagulation and plays a vital role in fighting blood clotting.
It’s also crucial for bone health and can lower the risk of osteoporosis.
But natto is also high in protein, potassium, dietary fiber, vitamin B, and vitamin E.
Furthermore, natto contains natto-kin, a good bacteria that promotes excellent gut health.
It’s almost impossible to be ambivalent about natto, as most people either love it or hate it.
But, on the other hand, if you get over the pungent smell and appreciate the umami taste, you may find it enjoyable.
The nutritional benefits make natto worth trying, but when paired with other foods appropriately, natto truly shines.
So, what does natto taste like, really? It’s pleasantly savory and very slimy.
It’s unique, fascinating, and a staple Japanese food appreciated by many worldwide.