Natto—Japan's Amazing Health Food
An example of a typical Japanese breakfast that includes a number of fermented foods: (upper left) natto, (upper right) tsukemono (pickles), and (lower right) miso soup.
Fermentation is a method of processing food using yeast and bacteria to convert one food into something entirely different. The process helps preserve food and is used to produce many kinds of food all over the world. The most well-known fermented foods are bread, cheese, pickles, wine, yoghurt and vinegar. But no country in the world has as many varieties of fermented foods as Japan. Soy sauce and miso made from soybeans, Japanese sake made from rice, tsukemono (pickles) made from fermented vegetables—these are just a few examples of fermented foods that are served with every meal.
Made by simmering and fermenting soybeans, natto is a fermented food as typically Japanese as soy sauce or miso. Natto may look strange and have a peculiar smell, but it is extremely good for you. And it has become increasingly popular in recent years.
The sticky strings of natto, which are mainly comprised of polyglutamic acid (Photo: AFLO)
Natto is known for its stickiness. It is the polyglutamic acid produced when the soybeans ferment that makes natto so sticky. Polyglutamic acid is a polypeptide containing a large quantity of glutamic acid molecules. Glutamates give food the umami (the savory flavor typically associated with foods such as soup broth made from kelp, shiitake mushrooms, shellfish, and other ingredients) that makes it so tasty.
Polyglutamic acid also helps the body absorb calcium. Natto is an extremely healthy food packed full of Vitamin B and E, along with fiber, and iron.