07 October 2014

Supermarkets of Mystery ~ Frozen Natto - Japanese fermented soy beans

Natto has a reputation for stink and slime. It's well deserved, but the texture, smell and flavour are a winner if that's just what you love.

The first time Shawn tried natto was shoving a whole battleship sushi topped with natto straight into his gob. He spat it out fast, unprepared for the assualt on his tastebuds and nasal passages.

The next time it was offered was on a breakfast menu in a cafe in Sapporo, so Alison took the plunge to try it again with far greater success. She ate the lot.

Here's the evidence of the stirring, none of the eating, you'll have to take our word for it:

Natto is a fermented food, steamed soy beans are fermented for a few days with an added bacteria from rice straw. The small beans are light brown in colour, and covered with a lighter brown sticky substance from the fermentation process. It doesn't look spectacular, like small baked beans with a skin problem.

The one thing most commented about natto is the smell, some liken it to stinky old socks but it is more like a really pungent cheese (mmmmm stinky cheese). It all depends on your olfactory tolerance how well you cope with the smell, coming from people who love stinky tofu we can't really be good judges of its good or bad stink levels.

Next is the texture. When mixed together natto develops a slimy, stringy appearance that looks strange for a food. If you like the texture that okra gives (okra powder of file powder is used in gumbo to give it a better texture) then you'll be OK.

Last is the taste. Natto has a savoury taste and is usually mixed in with karashi mustard (a mix of mustard seeds and horseradish) and some soy sauce for an added salty / savoury hit. Fans of Vegemite will understand the mix of weird flavours.

In Australia, natto comes in nifty little styrofoam packs that are frozen, so you can have it on hand whenever the natto urge strikes. We found this in the Convini 8 store in Town Hall, you should also find it in the freezer section of large Asian grocery stores. We haven't seen it fresh here, but you can also make it yourself if you can fine the special natto spores required to make it come alive.

Each container comes with a plastic layer over the beans to keep the sticky substances under control and packets of tare (sauce) and mustard for mixing in.

Mix the beans in the packet, there's enough room for the sauces and to stir. Some say to stir the beans 50 times for the best consistency.

You'll know when they are ready when a foamy goodness starts developing and the stringy-ness develops even more.

You can also add chopped green shallot (spring onion) and for a really runny version, a raw egg. Take the natto out of the styrofoam packet if you are going to add an egg as you will need lots of room to stir it all around.

Have a bowl of hot rice handy to empty the prepared beans on top of.

Aaah, breakfast is ready!

Natto is in a few Japanese restaurants in Sydney, we've seen it mixed with salmon at Daruma on Quay Street. Probably the low tolerance for this stinky delight means it's not as readily offered.

We love Japanese food.


  1. I love the way you guys talk about Natto. I tried it once and also promptly spat it out =)

  2. It's also very good mixed together with said okra (boiled and sliced), as the texture is similar as you noted. All it needs is a dash of soy, eat with rice. My favourite way of having it : )

    1. Wouldn't it be great if you could get a little packet of frozen okra in there as well! Perfect.


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