Natto is a traditional Japanese food made from fermented soybeans. It has been consumed in Japan for over 1,000 years for its nutritious and health-promoting properties.
Natto is produced by fermenting boiled soybeans with Bacillus subtilis, a beneficial bacterium that gives natto its distinguished sticky and stringy texture and strong odor. The fermentation process also generates an enzyme called nattokinase, which has been linked to several health benefits.
There are many regional varieties of natto across Japan, including itohiki-natto from Ibaraki prefecture, hama-natto from Okinawa, and shiokara-natto from Hokkaido. Each variety has a unique taste, texture, and way of serving. Natto can be eaten as is, added to rice or noodles, or used as an ingredient in salads, wraps, and dips.
Natto is highly nutritious. It is an excellent source of plant-based protein, providing around 15 grams per serving. Natto also contains vitamin K2, iron, calcium, zinc, magnesium, and selenium. The insoluble fiber in natto aids digestion.
One of the biggest health benefits of natto may come from its nattokinase enzyme. Some research indicates nattokinase has anti-inflammatory, anti-coagulant, and anti-hypertensive effects in the body. Most notably, it appears nattokinase may inhibit the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Consuming natto regularly may therefore provide some protection against COVID-19 infection and severity. More research is still needed on this topic however.
As a fermented soyfood with remarkable nutrition, enzymes, and potential health benefits, natto is worthy of the title “Japanese superfood”. Its rich history and regional diversity show just how integral natto is to Japanese cuisine and wellbeing.