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The Fermented Food You Didn't Know You Needed

Natto is a fermented food often overshadowed by more globally-recognised soy fermentations like miso and tempeh – but it’s no less nutritious, in fact, it has a number of unique benefits you won’t find elsewhere. Here are 3 reasons to race down to your local Japanese grocer stat for a pack of this nutritional powerhouse.

What is natto?

Natto is a fermented soy bean dish originating from Japan, and it’s characterised by its distinctly stringy and somewhat slimy texture, along with its pungent smell. It was originally made using rice straw to wrap the soybeans so that the good bacteria known as Bacillus subtilis found in the straw could ferment the sugars in the soy.

In modern times a more effective method is employed – now the bacteria has been identified and can be added straight into the soybeans without the need for the rice straw wrappings. Many compare the taste to that of nuts with an earthy element – while some find it’s not their cup of tea, others live by the stuff. Like most fermented foods – think blue cheese, vegemite and yoghurt – it can have an overpowering scent – but for many, the intensity is the draw. If you’re looking to try this nutritious dish for the first time, it’s worth adding a few other ingredients to the mix, after all, you probably wouldn’t eat a spoonful of vegemite on its own, right? (Or maybe you would!) Here are a few common foods natto is eaten with:

  • Mayo
  • Soy sauce
  • Mustard
  • Egg
  • Chives
  • Spring onions
  • Furikake – these are seaweed seasonings.
  • Rice

Let’s dive into why you’ll want to try this fermented dish – from its probiotic powers to its bone-strengthening properties.

Boosts Gut health

Natto is a fermented food after all, so it’s no surprise that it’s loaded with gut-strengthening properties. Our gut microbiome is made up of trillions of good and bad bacteria, and the foods we eat contribute to the balance of good to bad. Probiotics are a powerful tool to tip things back in our favour, and natto happens to be loaded with them! The probiotics found in natto have been known to reduce constipation, bloating and diarrhoea, and natto happens to have around the same number of good bacteria in just one gram than an entire serving of other fermented foods. The other benefit of fermentation is that is reduces the levels of phytates – also known as antinutrients – which prevent us from absorbing higher levels of vitamins and minerals, making the soy beans more nutritious and easier on the gut.

May ward off osteoporosis

One of the nutrients natto is rich in is vitamin K2 – not to be confused with vitamin K, which natto is also rich in – this stuff plays a vital role in bone strength and health, along with boosting skin and brain health. Natto happens to have a whopping 150 micrograms in just a tablespoon – that’s nearly double the daily recommended intake, and most people won’t be stopping at a tablespoon! What’s so impressive about this is not just the fact that its content soars past the recommendation, but that it’s a plant food – most foods rich in vitamin K2 are animal products or by-products. This nutrient activates the proteins in our body that are responsible for building and metabolising our bones as they draw calcium in. Researchshows that vitamin K2 slows bone-density loss in the ageing process, along with finding it may reduce the risk some fractures by around 60%.  Natto also provides a good dose of calcium, offering over 20% of the daily intake in a 100-gram serving, and we know how important calcium is to maintaining healthy bones!

Boosts heart health

During the fermentation process, the soy beans release what’s known as nattokinase, and this is an enzyme that aids in the process of combatting and dissolving blood clots. It’s most available in the slimy, stringy part of the natto – so don’t wash it off! Research also shows it lowers blood pressure, with one study finding a blood pressure reduction of up to 5.5 mmHg in those with high blood pressure. The vitamin K2 content may also contribute to heart health as it prevents the build-up of calcium in the arteries, thereby lowering your risk for heart disease and stroke. One study found the consumption of vitamin K2 on the regular to be associated with a 57% decreased risk for death from heart disease.

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