How to make Natto taste good with 3 simple tips.

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Make Natto taste good. Picture of 6 packs of Natto.

How to make Natto taste better?

How can you make natto taste good? After all you hear people love these fermented soybeans. But you’ve eaten a few packets and simply can’t get your natto to taste any good. Then, this post is for you. In this article, you can learn how the Japanese like to eat their natto and improve the taste of your own locally sourced fermenting soybeans. There are also a few things Japanese lookout for when buying natto and I’ll pass these tips on to you.

Table of contents 

  • Getting past the terrible image
  • Make sure you have fresh natto
  • Eat natto cold
  • Choose your favorite natto maker
  • Bonus tip
  • Conclusion 

The smell is not as bad as you think

People often have one of two reactions when eating natto. And you are likely to fall in either one of these groups. You’ll either love it or hate. This seems to be particularly true in western countries, where we have nothing quite like the taste or texture.

Natto also has a unique smell. Everyone seems to describe it differently. I’ve even heard it described as dirty old socks. Yikes, I wouldn’t eat it either, luckily, I think natto has a nutty smell and actually find it quite pleasant. This could be due to food companies using strains of bacteria that produce a milder smelling natto.

Natto is really good for you

Despite the negative press, there’s not denying that natto is one of the healthiest foods you can eat. In Japan natto is said to be so good for your health. That they even have a phrase translated to English as “Natto Brain.” This saying is used to describe someone who is creative or intelligent.

Yes, in Japan many people think natto is good for brain activity. That’s not exactly scientific. However, it’s well known that natto has a lot of vitamin K and this vitamin has showed numerous health benefits in medical studies.

How to make natto taste good? 

Tip 1: Eat Fresh Natto

This is no surprise. However, if you’re not used to eating natto, then fresh soybeans might seem rotten. Let me explain.

Natto is fermenting soybeans, that have active bacteria on the surface of the beans. Fresh natto will look moldy, and if you look closely, natto will have white mold on the surface. However, older natto will appear browner with fewer bacteria on the surface. This may look nicer but actually, the beans are going past their used by date and the taste deteriorates quickly.

KEY TAKEAWAY

Fresh natto will look moldy with a white layer covering the beans. This is a good sign. Soybeans that are a few days old, will start losing this white covering. Also the soybeans will become more slimy over time, and there’s nothing worst than old beans.

Tip 2: Eat your natto cold

Japanese people prefer to eat their natto cold. So store your natto in the refrigerator if you want to eat nicer tasting beans.

While you may have seen pictures of rice with natto on top. Many Japanese prefer to eat natto and rice as two separate dishes. And some like to eat it straight out of the container. Sure you can put your natto into a bowl over hot rice, however, you don’t have to.

KEY TAKEWAY
  • Japanese prefer eat natto cold or at room temperature
  • Natto placed on hot rice will heat up the beans, so some Japanese like to keep the two dishes separate
How to check if natto is fresh.
Tip: You can see there is less mold in center of this packet of natto. This natto is just starting to turn. And, although it be still be tasty, it shows I need to eat the other packets in the next few days.

Tip 3: Not all natto tastes the same

Each brand has a slightly different taste

  • In Japanese supermarkets there is a huge selection of natto to choose from. However, if your supermarket offers a few choices, try them all. Every brand of natto brand can taste completely different.
  • Natto companies use bacteria to start the fermentation process. And this process has changed over time, with most makers now using bacteria which makes natto less smelly. However, these bacterial starters can strongly influence the flavor of natto. So you may prefer one brand over another. 

Natto comes with a variety different flavorings

While mustard and a dashi and soy sauce combination still remains popular, many new flavors have entered the market.

For example, you can try combination such as daikon to wasabi. But don’t make the mistake of skipping the little packets of sauce that come in the container. They are there for a reason and sure do make natto taste a lot better.

If you make your own natto from a starter, then you’ll need to add your own condiments. To give a extra flavor to your natto.

I recommend adding a little soy sauce and mustard. The Japanese mustard or “Karashi” tends to be a mild and a little sweeter than regular mustard. The yellow mustard, usually put on hot dogs, is fairly close to Japanese mustard.

How to enjoy natto? In the picture are two different brands of Japanese natto
Try the different brands of natto. Each brand is a little different, and while you may not like one type you may like another.

Natto comes in a variety of different bean sizes

Bean size is another consideration if you want to enjoy natto. While small soybeans are the standard size,  you can also buy natto with larger beans. Or with beans that have been de-skinned and cut into tiny pieces. Personally, I like the bigger beans. However, even for a natto fan like myself, the bigger can be quite the meal.

Three Natto packets that show the different types of Natto
Natto comes in a variety of sizes;
On the left the soybeans have been de-skinned and cut into small pieces.
In the middle the Natto has standard sized beans. However this brans came with a Daikon sauce.
On the right larger soybeans are used.

Experiment with Natto 

Even though many Japanese prefer to eat natto as a stand alone dish, or on-top of a bowl of rice. Other dishes such as natto maki and natto sushi are also common.

Note that sushi rice is not hot. Again coming back to the point that natto is best eaten cold or at least at room temperature. With that being said natto is sometimes eaten in Tamagoyaki. (Type of omelet which is often slightly sweetened). And natto on toast is also becoming more popular.

Natto Maki in a sushi restaurant
This dish is called Natto Maki. Soybeans without a seed coat and cut in to small pieces are used.

How to Make Natto taste Good? Learn from the Japanese?

It seems that eating natto cold is the key to making it taste better. Make sure to store natto in the refrigerator and serve cold. The beans are also still fermenting so in warmer weather they can go bad quickly, so keep them in the fridge. If stored correctly the natto should be good for a week.

Also remember the following

  • Eat fresh natto and fresh in this case is moldy
  • Try different brands, because they all taste different
  • Have fun adding different flavorings
black soybean or kuromame natto
If you thought standard natto was sticky, then try Kuromame natto or black soybean natto. It has to be twice as sticky as regular Natto.

Natto is the Japanese breakfast of champions

There are so many different Natto brands available. If your first experience wasn’t so good. I really recommend giving natto another try. In Japan natto is often eaten for breakfast and it’s well known to be extremely good for your health. What better way to start your day?

Reference

  1. https://www.seriouseats.com/2017/07/obsessed-ann-yonetani-natto-nyrture.html
  2. https://traditionalkyoto.com/eat/natto/
  3. https://toyokeizai.net/articles/-/128328
  4. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/food-science/natto
  5. https://www.bmj.com/content/368/bmj.m34

4 COMMENTS

  1. Had natto my first time at a popular little Japanese restraunt…was dissapointed as it was bitter beyond belief and couldn’t even swallow a bite. 🙁 The next time I bought a pack of 3 from a market and had it over a little rice with some seasoning and was actually really good…mild almost smoky cheesy and nutty flavor- the stickiness was interesting but a little fun to eat..I started to crave it after that. If you hate it the first time try to get it fresh…have a feeling the one at the restaurant was extra fermented and probably sitting around in the fridge fermenting for an extra month or two after purchase.

    • Hi there Amber

      Thanks for leaving a comment, I’m glad you weren’t put off by your first try.

      Totally agree, for me, Natto has a really nutty favor.

      The stickiness put me off at first but when I saw how the Japanese quickly rotated their chopsticks to remove the natto stands. It was a game changer.

      Thanks for sharing your experience.

  2. Hey,

    I’m super interested in trying Natto and was wondering where I could buy some. I’ve been searching for the individual packs for a long time with no luck. But it seems like you have know how to get hold of a few packets going by pictures featured.

    • Hi Jake

      Thanks for getting in touch. I live in a region in Japan where Natto is often eaten for breakfast. So the supermarket are full of lots of different brands to try. I’d try your local Asian supermarket in your hometown. They often have import food items not regularly available in standard supermarkets.

      Good on you for wanting to try Natto

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