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WTF Is Natto—and Should You Try It?

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Photo: Shutterstock/abc1234

If someone put a big bowl of gooey natto in front of you, your first thought would probably be "WTF is that?" To be honest, one look (and smell) of natto can make you feel like you just received a mystery ingredient on Chopped. But if you can get past the aroma and texture of this fermented soybean, you'll likely be pleased with the savory umami flavor and the wide array of health benefits provided by this Japanese delicacy. 

If you're still stuck in the "I'm not eating anything slimy" state of mind, maybe learning more about natto will convince you otherwise.

What Is Natto?

Natto is fermented soybean that is commonly eaten for breakfast in Japan. More specifically, natto is the result of combining a soybean with beneficial bacteria and letting it ferment for an extended period, which is how other fermented foods with healthy bacteria are created. The fermentation process not only preserves the soybean, but it also creates a sticky and somewhat slimy and earthy-flavored food. Each batch of natto can taste slightly different due to the slight differences in the fermentation process, but the overarching flavor is similar to cottage cheese, foie gras, or liver. 

Health Benefits of Natto

People in many Asian cultures eat much less meat than Americans, so they turn to soy products for protein. With about 17 grams of protein per 1/2 cup of natto, it's no wonder that they start their day with this protein-packed food. But that's not the only nutritious value to natto. "Because natto is a fermented food, it contains bacillus subtilis, a microorganism that may boost good bacteria in your gut," says Christy Brissette, M.S., R.D., president of 80 Twenty Nutrition. It also offers plenty of fiber, and it's high in bone-building vitamin K2, adds Brissette. "Lastly, natto also has the potential to prevent blood clots that can cause heart attacks and strokes," she says. (Related: Why You Should Add Fermented Foods to Your Diet

How to Eat Natto

Now that we've convinced you to try it (we hope), here are some tips for how to actually eat natto. First, head to your local Asian specialty store to pick up this treat. Traditionally, it's enjoyed with steamed rice or spicy Japanese mustard, but if you're thrown off by eating it essentially alone, it can easily be mixed into other foods so you can't detect the slickness, says Brissette. It's fantastic in miso soup, and it can be used in pasta dishes and sushi as a tasty condiment, she says. Since it has the same umami flavor of soy sauce or tempeh, it can also be used in dishes where you would find those ingredients. (Discover some delicious vegan tempeh recipes to get you cooking.) Before adding it to something else, we dare you to try a spoonful alone. Who knows—maybe you'll become a natto aficionado.

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