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Mar 4, 2008 11:35 PM

Any Natto Experts Out There? I Have Questions.

I've had natto at sushi bars and found it tasty enough. It is supposed to be very good for you.

Just read the amazing book "In Defense of Food" by Michael Pollan, who says that I am to eat no food my grandmother wouldn't recognize. Now my own grandmother certainly wouldn't have recognized natto, but I assume a Japanese grandmother would, so I'm guessing it's an okay traditional food.

But I go to the market and there are tubs of the stuff and I have no idea which one to buy. I think I've seen it in jars as well. (No, despite Michael Pollan's advice to grow and make your own food, I won't be fermenting my own natto - 10-hour workdays kind of cuts into your time for natto-making).

And once I figure out which one to buy, exactly how long will it keep in my fridge? And what exactly do I do with it other than dump it over some rice?

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  1. Well Natto. That's a one of my favorite.
    I usually enjoy dump it over some rice, but some time with Rica Cake.
    Bake Raice Cake, cut into half and insert Natto like sandwich.

    By the way, preparation technique of the Natto is first you should mix well.
    After well mixed, you add attached source or soy source with mustard (some people add Japanese Chili Oil called Rayu). Then mix once again and complete.
    This way, it will mix Natto and Sources very well and well balanced.

    Let's enjoy eating Natto!!

    1. I've seen natto in the freezer section of some places, so if you get a big tub, you may be able to store the extra that way and thaw what you need in the microwave.

      As the other poster said, it's commonly mixed with tamari and mustard (hot yellow mustard, not wasabi) and eaten on rice, but in Japan I usually saw it rolled up in rice and eaten like a "jelly roll" or stuffed inside an onigiri rice ball.

      1. I find there is not a great deal of difference between the different nattos you can buy frozen at the markets. Sometimes they offer different sized soy beans, and you can occasional find the pre-chopped variety that is used in sushi, but overall I find they all taste very similar. In Japan you can buy high quality natto that I think is actually fresh natto and comes wrapped in straw like in olden days, but I doubt you be able to find it outside Japan.

        I have not seen many other uses for natto other than being eaten with rice, either as a rice accompaniment at breakfast or in temaki or norimaki sushi (though strictly speaking it is not a traditional sushi filling -- I got scolded by a very sobre sushi chef once in Tokyo for asking for it!). As flccoffee said, the standard preparation for natto is to first mix it very well to "wake up" the natto (you will notice it becomes much stickier, which is what you want). Then season with soy / tare and karashi (mustard). It is usual to also add chopped scallions. The precise quantity depends on your taste but generally around one big tablespoon per natto packet. Some people add a raw egg too, which makes it even more slimy (not a fan of this version myself).

        I keep natto in my freezer and defrost overnight in the fridge as required. It will keep for ages in your freezer. I find it keeps pretty well in the fridge too once defrosted -- well over a week -- though you will find it starts to dry out if you keep it for too long.

        NOTE: Don't microwave it to defrost it. Natto is a fermented product containing natural bacteria in it whose activity causes the breakdown of the soy beans and creates that stickiness and characteristic natto flavour. If you microwave the natto will lose the stickiness and savour.

        7 Replies
        1. re: Tsar_Pushka

          Tsar, do you know if freezing natto has any detrimental effects on microbial activity? Because my yogurt maker manual said something about not using previously frozen yogurt as a starter because the microbes can't survive the freezing and heating process. Was wondering if freezing only would affect it as well.

          1. re: Miss Needle

            Freezing natto is fine. The natto culture simply becomes dormant.

          2. re: Tsar_Pushka

            I can see where microwaving 'immature' natto could inhibit the formation of stickiness and flavor, but microwaving it right before serving shouldn't do that. The stickiness and flavor are already there. Using just enough microwave time to defrost frozen natto does not destroy these characteristics.

            In US Asian groceries I've only seen natto in single serving frozen containers.


            1. re: paulj

              it's not the stickiness and the flavour that are the main reasons for not wanting to microwave natto to defrost - it's that you'll be killing the beneficial bacteria (which give it the flavour) but are also beneficial to your intestinal flora and fauna. :-)

              1. re: mikikiandguest

                "Natto bacteria spores are very resistant to heat. It takes one hour at 140°C (284°F) to kill all the natto bacteria"

            2. re: Tsar_Pushka

              When you mix natto around it gets much more gooey and webby. I wonder if this is releasing or enabling more of the beneficial nutrients in Natto?? or not?

              1. re: easybullet3

                Well the Natto bacillus is a thread-forming aerobic bacteria, so I've always interpreted stirring with activating the culture. I've also heard that the Natto bacillus makes the proteins in soybeans particularly bio-available.

                BTW in regards to stirring up the Natto, here are a couple of tips: use a textured bowl. This significantly increases the quality of, and speeds up the generation of, the threads.

                Also whenever I "whip up" a batch of Natto, I give it on the order of at least 50 stirs, much much more than I've seen most others do. What you'll find is that the threads become a lot stronger and more opaque; you'll actually feel the build up of a considerable amount of resistance!

                Regardless of whether or not all of this makes it any healthier, it certainly makes it tastier!

            3. omotosando: I find there is a significant difference between brands, not only because of the different approaches to seasoning in the various packs, as well as black bean, small or large bean, and of course cut bean variations, but also just pure and simple taste variations in the beans themselves.

              There's a brand out there that I always look for that I enjoy the most. I can't recall the name, I'll ammend my post when I find out, but the print (in Japanese) on the packaging talks about the strength of the nattokinase of this particular product. (The nattokinase is the active ingredient in natto that gives it its anti-coagulant properties.) I vaguely recall a graphic of a "grandmotherly" person on the packaging, but I don't believe it was the "obaachama" brand.

              True to its packaging claims it really does form a particularly strong, viscous "thread" when compared to the other brands.

              Regarding freezing, natto does freeze well, but it easily dries out given the insufficient protection in the typical packaging. If you plan on freezing it, I would limit the length of time its in there, or seal it with a vacuum sealer.

              Regarding thawing by microwave, it's probably a bit "brutal": on the buggers (the bacillus, that is), but I do believe they're still OK. I say that as the "neba neba" quality of the natto is due to the strands that form when activated, and these strands are created by the bacterial colonies themselves. So my interpretation is that the mere presence of the strands indicates the presence of live natto bacillus.

              I find though that natto does perfectly fine for extended periods of time in the refrigerator. After all, it is a product of fermentation. I've left natto in the refrigerator for months to no ill-effect. It essentially continues to ferment, but much, much slower than when placed outside.

              ...which leads me to a tip. If you really like very "neba neba" natto, a good trick is to leave the natto out on the kitchen counter the night or morning before you plan on eating it. Pry open the styrofoam clamshell and perforate the plastic sheeting with a fork - the natto bacillus is aerobic, so it needs air for it to thrive. If deprived of oxygen it can develop an ammonia-like smell from the anaerobic activity... When you come home you'll have a very active, very "neba neba" natto. Just waken it up with a really aggressive stir.

              Another tip for a real "neba neba" natto is to hold back on the shoyu (soy sauce). The salt in the shoyu has a deliterious effect on the culture, so you will get stronger natto strands if you suppress it a bit.

              ...and for true natto die-hards - there's a product out there called "neba-bou", for neba stick, (it's hard to translate neba, it's just one of those peculiar Japanese words that defies easy translation, but refers to the slimy quality of natto or okra), that is a short and wide plastic stick with ridges and bumps on its surface. It's used for stirring up the natto. I picked it up since it was only a buck or so at Marukai, thinking that it'll be neat to just try. Well it really does work, and works well! In no time at all it quickly creates a very thick, slimy, almost opaque and white mass of natto "strings", not unlike that of a silk caccoon.

              Hope this helps!

              BTW I think natto is best w/rice, sometimes with a raw egg stirred-in, but a nice variation is to top thin matchsticks of yamaimo with natto, thinly-sliced okra, and a pinch of katsuo-boshi (shaved dried bonito). Uzura (quail egg) will go fine with this as well.

              7 Replies
              1. re: cgfan

                A very informative post, thank you!

                1. re: cgfan

                  I found a picture of the natto I prefer, which is produced by the brand Okame Natto, mentioned in flccoffee's post below.

                  Make sure you get their product named "Ito no Chikara", one of several products they make in their natto line. "Ito no Chikara" translates to "Strength of the Threads", which is in reference to the "threads" formed when one stirs up the natto.

                  ...and indeed it is noticeably stronger in this particular product when compared to the others!

                  Unfortunately for non-Japanese speakers it's written only in Japanese. But look for the 3 bold characters that you see in the attached image, and you can't go wrong...

                  1. re: cgfan

                    Wow cgfan. I also like Ito no Chikara which we can find it in Mitsuwa, Marukai or Nijiya Supermarkt in CA.
                    It is sometimes very difficult to decide whether choosing Ito no Chikara or Original Okame Natto since they have different firmness and taste.
                    Both of them are very good. I recommend you both. : )

                    1. re: flccoffee

                      Unfortunately they seemed to have discontinued importing Ito no Chikara Natto into the U.S. I even asked the head buyer at the San Diego Nijiya about it. If anyone ever comes across it in the U.S., please post here!

                  2. re: cgfan

                    Great tips! I tried natto last week for the first time, and I really liked it. I made a batch using some commercial natto as the starter. It was incubated 24 hours at 40C, then aged in the sandwich bags in the fridge for 3 days. It smells the same as the commercial natto and is stringy, but I'd like it stringier. I'm going to try the special stirring stick and leaving some out overnight. Any more tips for more stringiness?

                    1. re: fchow8888

                      I think you've got all the right ideas...

                      Go easy on the soy as the salt sets back the bacteria, or perhaps use a lower sodium soy, and when you leave it out overnight cover it with plastic wrap to keep it from drying but poke holes with a fork to keep it aerobic. (You'll get a strong ammoniac smell when it goes anaerobic, but often times there always seems to be a trace of that...)

                      Re. the special stirring stick any stick with tiny bumps on it would probably work just as well, but you can get similar results with just plain chopsticks if you stir vigorously and long enough.

                      Other than that to really get the stringiness you need to get an idea on just how many times you need to stir. You really need to stir briskly until the threads are dense enough and strong enough to offer noticeable resistance and makes the whole batch look like it was covered in a dense spider's silk.

                      We're talking at least 25 vigorous stirs, but I'd recommend stirring to around twice that amount, around 50 stirs. When you hit the right point you'll find that you're no longer moving just the beans surrounding the stick, but rather the whole batch will all tend to move en-masse due to the strength of the strings, wich is about as much as you're likely to develop the "Neba Neba" qualities.

                      What I've found also helps tremendously, and it's the same idea with using the Natto-bou, is to use a glazed but textured bowl. They're easily found in Japanese ceramics shops. The glaze is for ease of cleaning, but it's the texture that really speeds up the development of the "Neba Neba" texture.

                      BTW one of my favorite additions to Natto, and this will naturally help boost the texture, is to make very slim slices of Okra and add it to the Natto. It looks great together and is a natural complement to the Natto.

                      1. re: cgfan

                        Thanks for the information. I've been doing some experimenting and reading and have already gotten much stringier natto by culturing it on adzuki beans. I also used the heat shock method of reactivating the culture. When I make my next batch there are a couple of other things I'm going to try. First, natto likes biotin (available from brewer's yeast). That should be easy (and yeast won't survive the heat shock). Natto also likes glutamic acid and maltose. Barley should provide both and indeed there is a barley natto that is supposed to be very stringy. I'm going to cook some barley and add it to the natto mix. Not too much, perhaps just 20% or so by dry weight.

                  3. Old days, Natto was wrapped by straws for fermentation and sold with straw wrap for keeping Natto Good Condition.

                    Now a days, they are selling with plastic container. Only sometimes we can find traditional package with straw wrap.

                    I usually eat OKAME Natto. You can find Orange-Red Package with Okame (flat-faced woman mask). OKAME Natto is well know brand in Japan and they also produce Natto in Chicago.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: flccoffee

                      I know this is an old thread but, this is the brand my Japanese wife and kids prefer.
                      Im not a huge fan, but I have enjoyed it mixed with tororo, negi, and hot mustard served as breakfast in a minshuku. She freezes he individual portions no problem-defrost in the fridge overnight.