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What the heck is natto?

On 10, Jan 2017 | In | By Jin

What the heck is natto?

By Heather B.

Did you know that the West Wood freezer is home to a nutritional powerhouse that few Westerners would recognize? I’m talking about “natto,” a fermented soybean with the highest levels of vitamin K2 around.

Most of us don’t get enough K2 in our diet, but it’s an important nutrient for cancer prevention, protection from heart disease, and bone health. Natto also contributes to gut health, and research demonstrates a variety of other great benefits associated with natto consumption.

As you may know, regular (ie. non-fermented) soybeans and soy products are associated with a variety of health risks, due to their significant levels of phytoestrogens, phytic acid, and trypsin inhibitors. However, natto is different. When steamed soybeans are fermented with a bacterium called Bacillus subtilis natto, their nutritional profile changes dramatically, and the result is a powerful supplemental food.

In Japan, where fermented soy is commonly eaten, you would be able to purchase natto from a variety of different sources. Here, the stuff is harder (but not impossible!) to find — which brings us back to the mysterious packages in the West Wood freezer. Until Kerrisdale’s natto consumption increases a little (OK, a lot), the product is being stocked in the freezer, in small styrofoam containers (sets of 3, wrapped in plastic). Admittedly not an ideal format, but, assuming you recycle the packaging, the health benefits are worth it. (Note that the information on the package is almost entirely in Japanese. If you don’t read Japanese, you’ll need either excellent vision or strong glasses to read the very tiny English text on the importer’s label.)

Turning now to the actual food product, let’s consider natto’s characteristics. I won’t sugar-coat the truth: natto is sticky, slimy, and, to some, odd-smelling. But you’re an adventurous eater who’ll try just about anything for good health, right? And rest assured: the taste of natto is far more neutral than first impressions might suggest. Don’t bother with the little seasoning sachets that come with your 3-pack (they contain high-fructose corn syrup and other nasties). Simply spoon out the sticky, nutritious, fermented beans, combine them with a bit of broth and/or tamari, a few omega-3-rich sardines, some steamed Asian greens, and enjoy!