Take a Stab at Natto (and Its Curious-Tasting Health Benefits)
Natto has a pretty bad reputation for its taste and texture, but there’s no denying the health benefits of this fermented soy food.
4 Health Benefits of Natto
Natto is a traditional Japanese dish made from fermented soybeans. It has many of the benefits you’d get from eating other fermented foods, like sauerkraut or miso. The good bacteria in these foods promote gut health and offer many other health benefits.
Natto gets special attention when it comes to health benefits because of its particular mix of enzymes and vitamins. Below are four studies highlighting some of natto’s unique properties.
1. It could hold a key to treating celiac disease. One type of good bacteria in natto shows promise for helping people with celiac disease digest gluten. Don’t try eating natto on toast just yet, though. Read about how and why researchers are looking at natto to treat celiac disease.
2. It improves bone density. A 2006 study published in The Journal of Nutrition found that women who ate natto had a lower risk of osteoporosis. Other soy foods did not show the same results.
3. It increases longevity. There is evidence that two compounds in natto—the enzyme nattokinase and vitamin K2—help you live longer.
4. It promotes heart health. Nattokinase—the enzyme in natto that gives it many of its health benefits—improved blood flow in one animal study. The same study found that it inhibited “platelet aggregation,” which is a precursor to blood clots. In fact, natto is a Japanese folk remedy for heart disease.
Natto has a reputation for being…let’s say, hard to eat. And until this week, I’d never tried natto before. I didn’t feel right sharing the health benefits of a food I’d never tasted, so I visited a sushi restaurant in my neighborhood to give natto a try.
A Natto Experience
I’ll be honest: I was pretty nervous about trying natto! The descriptions I’ve read about this food are pretty horrifying. It turned out not to be as bad as I feared, which I know isn’t much of a five-star review. My favorite part of the experience, though, was what my toddler said after his first bite.
Our food took longer than usual to arrive, and the server told us it was because so few people order natto.
It arrived on the plate with the inari nigiri and avocado roll we ordered. Sticky, stringy brown soybeans wrapped with green onions in rice and seaweed, then rolled in sesame seeds.
On first glance, it didn’t look as unappetizing as I thought it would, but given its rep, I was ready for my natto roll to be stomach-turning from the first bite. It actually wasn’t that bad, though I’m not sure I’ll order it again. The rice, onions and sesame seeds really masked a lot of the flavor. Doused in soy sauce, you could barely taste it.
I dissected one of the rolls to get an undiluted natto experience, and on its own it’s definitely not my favorite food. The initial taste was a little bit nutty, and it had a sharp aftertaste that I associate with other fermented foods like sauerkraut. After the sharp taste came another aftertaste that I wish I could describe with a word other than “garbagey.”
My toddler is a pretty adventurous eater and wanted to taste a bite after eating his half of our avocado roll and most of my half, too. He’s three, so he’s not familiar with the buzz about natto’s health benefits or its taste. To him, it was just another food to try. In a moment of perfect toddler honesty, told me, “Mommy, I don’t like these brown soybeans.”
If you’re going to eat natto for its health benefits, I’d suggest ordering it maki-style, like the sushi place we visited. Mixing it up with other foods seems to be the way to go. A good friend of mine genuinely loves natto, and he eats it mixed up in a bowl with rice and greens. Some sushi restaurants offer natto on its own over rice or wrapped in a hand roll. If you’re new to natto, this might be a little bit overwhelming, taste- and texture-wise.