More and more people are incorporating fermented foods into their diets, and experts praise pickled foods for their long list of health benefits. Sure, you could handle sauerkraut or pickled carrots, but would you find natto, a fermented soybean paste that’s popular in Japan, palatable?
Natto is made by soaking whole soybeans, then steaming or boiling them for many hours before the concoction is injected with bacteria and fermented. The result is a lumpy, gooey, brown mixture with a cottage cheese-like texture and a pungent smell that some compare to stinky feet. However, it's also loaded with good bacteria, protein, fiber and other nutrients. We asked Matt Riemann, a personalized health expert, to explain why you might want to add natto to your plate.
Why eat it
Soybeans have a high content of phytoestrogens and isoflavones — plant-derived compounds that regulate hormonal production in a natural way. This is considered helpful for women who may need an estrogen boost. Soy also contains 44 percent protein, much more than lentils or other legumes, making it a great source of protein for vegans and vegetarians, Riemann says.
Its bacteria is potent, he adds. The Bacillus subtilis and fermentation process help develop long-chain menaquinones, which allow vitamin K to be absorbed more readily into the body. Vitamin K is excellent for a healthy skeletal and circulatory system, especially as we age, Riemann says.
How to eat it
Often eaten for breakfast in Japan, you’ll find gooey natto topping dishes of rice, incorporated into a bowl of miso soup or added to a plate of vegetables. An acquired taste, natto is often eaten plain with rice or topped with chopped green onions or Japanese mustard. It's worth noting that the smell is said to become even more pungent when consumed with hot foods.
Because natto, much like tempeh, is a form of fermented soy, it has more bioactive peptides than non-fermented soy foods like tofu and soy milk. Many soy products are made with genetically modified and highly processed soy, so when shopping for soy milk, tofu, tempeh or natto, seek out good quality soy products.
Want to try this at home? Here’s an eight-step how-to if you’re considering it. Tips: Keep the entire process as sterile as possible, including all utensils, pots, etc. And if you can't handle the stink, find an isolated spot to store it during the fermentation process.