WTFood: Nattō

It’s been a few weeks since my last WTFood post, so I needed something truly legendary to get me back into the swing. Enter the infamous, the dreaded, the truly stomach churning Nattō.

Nattō: Dun dun duuuun

Nattō is a traditional Japanese food, typically eaten for breakfast, made by fermenting soybeans with the bacteria Bacillus subtilis. High in protein and probiotic properties, nattō was a mainstay of feudal nutrition. Nowadays, however, the first words anyone says when asked about it are “acquired taste”. There are dozens of videos on youtube of people trying nattō to really show you why.

Like many fermented foods, nattō is strongly associated with health benefits, and one of these days I’ll write a post specifically on fermentation.

I found this nattō in a freezer at a Japanese market in Cambridge for just under $3. It included 3 separate styrofoam containers.  If found frozen (typical outside of Japan), thaw a container overnight in the fridge before eating it. Each container comes with a packet of soy sauce and mild mustard seperated from the nattō itself by a thin plastic sheet.

First impressions: Even before you open the container, you can kind of smell it. To the American nose, it smells like compost just starting to turn. As for the taste, it tastes like soybeans, just further intensified. A bit nutty, sour, maybe a hint of cheesiness. It’s kind of like a sliding scale: soybean sprouts > edamame (immature soybeans) > soynuts (toasted soybeans) > nattō. The flavor is present in all of them, just grows more intense as you mature them. That said, I’m grateful for the included soy sauce and mustard, as both work with the underlying flavor and mask some of that moldiness. It’s suggested that you throughly stir nattō (chopsticks being the best means). Doing so helps integrate your toppings, but also opens up the flavor profile. That might sound like a negative, but it really isn’t.

I can get over the smell and the taste. It’s the consistency. The slimy, slippery yet sticky, stringiness of it. Frankly, it’s a bit nauseating.

Thumb-nailed for your convenience. It looks a lot like caramel. In fact, you know how when you bite into a candy bar and the caramel strings out a bit? Well, it’s like that. But more disgusting. Like walking through cobwebs lips first. It’s really off-putting.

In researching nattō, I came across a number of different preparations. Classic methods like over rice, mixed into miso soup, topped with chopped green onions or an egg, even sprinkled with a little sugar. More modern variations include dicing the nattō and mixing it into pastas, salads – there’s even an ice cream.

I tried Nattō Toast. Spread on toast and covered with a thin layer of melted cheese (a grass-fed cheddar from New Zealand for me), the negative properties are masked, but the base flavor is still there. That said, with this method  you want to eat it pretty quickly, as the toast starts getting soggy and the nattō grows more pungent (if you can believe it) over time. As for the third container, I’m curious about how nattō will do paired with ketchup.

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