Apr 16, 2013

Most smelly Japanese food -- Natto

Hi everyone.

Today I'll write about natto (納豆 なっとう), a traditional Japanese food that many Japanese commonly eat for breakfast (I do too!). Most foreigners, however,  dislike it or are too scared to put it in the mouth.

Well, this is natto, or fermented soy beans. Sorry the photo is a bit blurry. I hope  you can see how "nebaneba" (=an anomatope representing sticky and gooey texture) these beans are. Its powerful smell somehow reminds me of strong blue cheese, while some foreigners compare it to stinky socks.


Natto often sells in small plastic containers bundled into packages of two or three like the photo above.

Before stirring, natto beans are not too sticky.

Add the attached sauce....(in case of this brand, the sauce is in the lid, and you can sprinkle the sauce over the beans without making your fingers dirty by simply folding the lid in two.) 


...Then stir the beans with chopsticks, and they become really "nebaneba" producing sticky strings like this. We normally eat it with white rice.

Do you find it already disgusting? Well, I don't blame you.

 "Fermented" means, in other words, "rotten" (edible though).  The distinctive flavor would gross out not only foreigners but some Japanese, especially Kansai residents, while many natto lovers are addicted to it.  

To be honest, I don't particularly like the taste, but I eat it almost every morning. Why? Because natto has various health benefits backed by medical research, such as cholesterol-lowering and cancer-prevention effects.

If you have never tried this exotic food, I would strongly recommend you to taste it at least once, not because it is good for your health, but because you can show your braveness and possibly become a hero (or heroine) among your foreign friends. 

Today's useful (?) expression is: なっとう は くさい です。 (Natto wa kusai desu)
It means "Natto is smelly." 


  1. Natto does smell quite strong! But I don't mind it since it's a very healthy fermented food. (Come to think of it, fermented foods tend to be good... like miso, sauerkraut & red wine)

    The beans have a mellow taste though, I think, so most of the flavour comes from the soy & mustard ^^; I sometimes buy natto frozen from the asian supermarket.

    I have one question to ask: How should I defrost natto? Is it best to leave it at room temperature? Or put it in the microwave briefly? Your help would be much appreciated~

    1. Hi サマンサさん!

      Wow! You don't mind eating natto? Bravo! I know only one or two non-Japanese who can eat natto.

      To defrost natto, it is better to put it in fridge. When the room temperature is not very high you can leave it at room temperature, but not too long, otherwise it can get moldy. Enjoy! :)

  2. Hi Yukoさん!

    ありがとうございます!This is very helpful for me. Yay~ I still have one more natto box in the freezer...

  3. It doesn't smell that bad. Especially those styrofoam package ones after you defrost it. I usually add condiments and green onions among other crunchy things like croutons with my natto in the morning, and it covers the smell and the taste.
    Just need to eat it for its health benefit and digestion benefit right?
    I wrote an article on my natto experience here. Let me know what you think: http://foodstochew.com/my-week-with-natto-san/

  4. Nattō is a lot easier to eat for foreigners than its reputation would have you believe. It’s just BEANS basically.

    Add a raw egg yolk, some green onions, sesame seeds, and a good dose of karashi–similar to Chinese mustard–and eat it on top of your rice, and it’s fantastic.

    The minced variety is the most delicious.

  5. My family loves natto including my 8 year old son. We are vegan so maybe having a plant-based diet helps us appreciate it. Now we are trying to figure out which brand we like the best.