natto on rice

Japanese people like to consume soy beans in many forms. The most well known soy bean product outside of the country is tofu, and edamame (green soy beans) is gaining in popularity too. There is one Japanese soy bean product that probably will never become very popular in other countries though, and that's natto.

Natto is probably the quintessential "weird food" of Japanese cuisine, like haggis in Scotland or lutefisk in Norway. As a matter of fact, not even all Japanese people can tolerate it. People who live in the "western" (actually the south-western) half of Japan, who did not grow up eating natto, often despise it. But for those of us who grew up in the "eastern" half, natto is a really good thing.

What is natto then? It's steamed soy beans that have been fermented for a few days, with the addition of some beneficial bacteria (natto bacillus) that grow on rice straw. The soy beans are brown, soft and covered with sticky gooey matter, rather like the sticky slippery stuff that's inside an okra. If you saw this sort of sticky gooey stuff on food other than natto, you'd dump it immediately. But for some reason it's not going to kill you when it's on natto. As a matter of fact, natto is lauded as a health food, because the soy beans become very easy to digest when they've been natto-i-fied.

The other disturbing (for the uninitiated) aspect of natto is the smell. It can smell pretty strong, sort of like stinky socks. Some people can't stand this smell, and there are natto manufacturers now who produce an "odorless" or "low-odor" natto. I think that the smell is all part of the whole experience though.

This evening, as I mixed up a pack of natto for dinner, Max slowly backed away from with a look of sheer horror on his face. He can't stand the smell, he says. And believe me, Max is not a picky eater. He loves just about every other strange and exotic (to him) Japanese, Chinese, or any other type of food. He even loves those boiled chicken feet that is served at some dimsum places, though I can't even bear to look at them. But natto totally throws him off.

I do love natto though. The best way to have it is with a little soy sauce, a bit of hot mustard (most natto brands come with a tiny mustard pack), mixed well until plenty of gooey strings form around the beans. You can add a bit of chopped green onion if you like, or shredded nori seaweed. For extra sliminess, add a raw egg. This is great served on hot rice, or mixed with spaghettini. Unless of course, natto strikes horror in your heart too.

There is an excellent site about natto, if you want to see how gooey and stringy it can get. (Mine was not that gooey, probably because I had stored it in the freezer.)

Filed under:  japanese ingredients natto legumes vegetarian vegan

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While living in Japan I ate raw squid eyeballs, deep fried eel heads, raw liver of a manta ray, and all sorts of squishy, squiggley things that defy description. Still, after all that, I have never been able to stand the smell, let alone the taste, of natto. Fortunately we lived in Kyoto in the southwestern part of Japan, where people don't really eat natto so much. However, every time we travelled to Tokyo we were offered natto for breakfast. Ugh! Stinky socks you say? Really stinky socks.

My mom would prepare natto (with raw egg) every so often when I was growing up. I've tried to like it, but I really can't stand the smell. A non-Japanese friend of mine particularly likes a natto-maki roll that one of the sushi restaurants makes-- he is a stronger man than I.

Never tasted natto, but looking at the picture I could swear it was rice and beans, the most tipical dish from Brazil. And, well, I love it... I want to try natto!

Yoko I love natto-maki :P

Elise yes they do smell...but like cheese, that's part of the attraction! hehe.

Laura...I love rice and beans, and this is rice and beans...but is rather a different experience :P

Ouhhhh!!! I love Sushi and Natto Maki is one of my favorite choose. I'm looking forward to go back to Japan and eat Sushi as much as I can.

Hope Bloom

Just ate natto then. Mmm ..yum yum...

My Japanese husband despises natto. But, I have become addicted to natto with rice. Yum! I am American by the way.

I love natto. It's good stuff. It took me a year to eat it again after my first awful experience (a pack of natto makki zushi from Universe) but it was worth it. I find that no other breakfast is so effective at waking you up (because of its disturbing taste and sensation) and sustaining you with energy (because it is already broken down).

The health benefits are debatable, since the "facts" come from Japan, but I reckon it does you good.

I found this looking for other sites espousing the virtues of natto by typing "i love natto" into Google. I put a movie of natto eating on my webshite recently, you see.

Good job.

Thanks so much for the information. I would like to try the most authentic natto available. Would you be so kind as to recommend a supplier? It would probably have to be by mail order and I live in the Hamptons part of Long Island and our specialty stores probably will not carry it.
Thanks again for the information,
Chris Stanley

Chris, you can see if Katagiri in Manhattan will send you natto. Katagiri is a bit expensive, but quite reliable. Otherwise, there are some very good small Japanese grocery stores in Nassau County, if you can drive that far. There's one in Port Washington, Nara J-Foods, and also one in Roslyn, Shin Nippondo I have shopped from those places myself so can vouch for their quality.

If you can drive out even further, there is a Japanese-Asian supermarket in Edgewater, NJ called Mitsuwa that has just about every Japanese grocery item you can think of.

A page with a list of Japanese groceries in the NY area is here.

Being fed natto since a new-born, I crave it whenever I'm in some remote location in the US where they do not sell such exotics.

The stuff smells, but that's part of why it tastes good! Sometimes the best stuff smells the worst. Good cheese. Good Kimchi. Good spaghetti. Good thai dishes using fish sauce. Natto is definitely not an exception. The fact that it has many health benefits, especially for a western meat eater (it helps clean up your blood vessels by binding to cholesterol) was something I learned lately, and rejoiced, knowing that it was already something I loved eating.

For the faint of heart however, they now sell pills containing the active ingredient "nattokinase" at hippy markets/co-ops..I'm sure other places as well.

Natto isn't liked by all Japanese, this is true. My uncle Akimasa can not stand it, so he sticks to "Ama-natto", which is the low-odour version. This is understandable, since the smell is rather kitsui. My Irish-American father eat's natto, one pack a day around 7:00, since he has high cholesterol. This, combined with a healthy diet rich in fish, vegetables, and poly unsaturated fats has kept him out of the doctor's office.


Raw squid eyeballs, I had no idea that these were a delicacy! I could see ink being extracted and used for making a squid ink spaghetti (Spanish) or ramen (Japanese).
Deep fried eel.. sounds great, but the heads were sold seperate? Never had that either. Liver of a manta ray.. Ahh, that must have been tasty, much like raw liver of moulard ducks, commonly used in french cuisine. When I worked in sushi shop, we used Monkfish liver as a Japanese analogue. Au torchon! Squigly things that defy description.. Pickles! Raw squid pickles! .. or Seaweed.. haha.. Man, I miss Japan all of a sudden.

Give me natto maki with Green onions mixed in!


I first had natto when I was staying in Germany for a month and it was among the most tasty things I managed to eat there. I didn't really notice the smell, but then again I don't have a very good sense of smell in general; I left my window open when I had it just in case. I have yet to try it with soy sauce or mustard, but I do like with white vinegar on top.

I think Wikipedia compared it to being an acquired taste similar to blue cheeses. Maybe I'm weird, since I grew up eating neither and now love both!

Natto sure is an acquired taste, and I think it's one of those foods that does get better once you get past the initial stages. I had a problem for a long time with fresh coriander, but now I sometimes almost crave it. Human tastebuds are strange indeed.

I grew up in the US, and visited Japan about 5 times. My wife is Japanese, and at first, I thought Natto was smell and gross. After a year or so of being exposed to it, I started liking it. Now I eat it everyday, most of the time straight from the box (to avoid carbs). Its funny, when traveling in Japan, I get a lot of funny looks when the "Gaijin" is eating Natto and looking like hes enjoying it.

I went to may favorite store and looked for some natto. I found some in the refrigerated part of the store, whoowee, step one. I figured that the consuming of natto occurred during breakfast due to my extensive watching of "slice of life" anime. Great, steeling myself I open the prepackaged tub and found a little packet of mustard and the natto. I have never smelt anything like it before but in for a penny, in for a pound. I grabbed my chopsticks and got to stirring. A little unclear on the concept, the mustard went in the stirred tub of beans. The texture started to shift from a honey with lumps to a taffy with lumps. Wondering when to stop the stirring, the chopsticks lifted and the natto followed. I was not to enthused as to what greeted my first bite. With most things, the first serving should not be the making or breaking of a food. I ate another bite, not much improvement. Now, strong cheese and I have had a love affair of longstanding, chilies are my friend, seafood cooked and raw are frequently enjoyed in my home. This was another food to get used too. My eyes leaked and my nose ran. This isn't a barrier for me as this also occurs with other strong foods. I don't seem to eat them for breakfast.
My mistake I realized, was that most people eat natto with something else! If I was paying attention, some rice would be available to ease my acceptance of this new sensation. I did drink a lot of water. My wife noticed my distress and asked if I was alright. I pointed to the natto. She smiled and turned down the offer to share.
I have since tried it again with a bowlful of hot brown rice. I resisted adding to the sliminess with the raw egg but some scrambled egg cooked with onion and cheddar allowed me to enjoy it in my wimpy way. I will not be deterred, future breakfast will be enjoyed with fewer and fewer additions until it will be natto and rice alone.
Its not bad at all, thank Maki!

Dedicated to all things yummy.

One of the best comments I've ever gotten here. Fantastic.

Thanks mysofa!

Oh my.

I LOVE NATTO! Haha, I miss it soooooo much.
Ever since I came to korea, I've been dying to eat some natto, but they don't sell it here! Well, not in the packages, but still.

Hello Maki! I have been following your blog for some time now.

I decided to try natto after a close friend told me she ate it for breakfast and thought I'd like it too. I'm not too much of an adventurous eater*, but I literally just had my first bowl and I think I'm going to make a quick trip to stock up on some natto! :) Mmmmm.

That's where my question comes in. The particular freezer-pack I bought had small chopped-up beans instead of whole beans. I also don't think it smells too much but I can't tell if that's because it was previously frozen or I'm just immune to strange smells (possibly related to my job... haha). Anyway, I was wondering if you could recommend any particular brands? Fortunately I'm in New York and have access to Japanese markets.

*I guess this is debatable since I'm of Korean heritage and am known to a. eat straight from the overripe kimchi jar and b. make a beeline for the more pungent cheese varieties. :)

The chopped-up bean kind of natto you had is called ひきわり納豆 (hikiwari natto) - which means split natto, basically. I like it as a change from whole bean natto sometimes.

I don't really detect a big difference between supermarket brand nattos actually - they tend to be fairly odorless, since unfortunately many Japanese people are losing their taste for odiferous food, even though the health benefits of natto are increasingly lauded. There is a difference in the sauce packet that comes with the natto. Just try different kinds and see what you like!

(I like slightly overripe kimchi too :))

Added to diet to aid immune issues as the fall out is supposed to start in the gut. Noted other heath improvements but I have this with soy sause and mustard provided only last thing at night. Improvements include skin revitalization on the face! I did suffer a healing crisis- stomach gas and slow movement but resolved within a few days of starting as system became used. Would recommend also for candida which is now endemic, fibroids and other applications. Mild cheese smell, whats the fuss? Was at home with it from the very first time, plain, no rice, at bed time 50g.

I tried nattoo the other day at my friends hourse and I was plesantly surprised! It looks totaly discusting but it tastes fine! ... Its not my new fave food and I wouldnt seek it out specily however it was nice enough and I would eat it again if it was offered to me :)

I actually tried natto a few weeks ago and I enjoy it, for the most part. The smell is very, VERY strong. I actually had some with rice and some furikake, and after I finished eating it, I ran to boyfriend to give him a big kiss! He was absolutely horrified with the smell of my breath, haha. The consistency was new to me, something I've never had before. I like it with a lot of rice, and I mean a lot! Haha, I suppose it's a bit strong for me, so I dilute a bit of the flavor with some rice. Natto maki is a really interesting idea, though! I have to try that sometime.

I just tried natto for the first time, I ate it over rice, and it was way better than I thought it would have been, so i loved it!

The taste and smell weren't as bad as I thought natto would be.

If I could divide the experience of eating natto into two parts, I'd say the first half is better than the second.

It was too overpowering with rice and even with seaweed. I found it tasted good with prawns but then that sort of made me feel sick since both the foods were cold.

Can you recommend complementary foods for natto?

A bought a pack of 4 (a product of Japan, I swear) for AU$3.70 from a large Asian-Western supermarket in Sydney. How much does it cost in Japan?

The best way to serve natto is on hot plain white rice. You only need a teaspoonful at a time - it's not meant to be eaten in large quantities. I would say a couple of teaspoons per bowl of rice is about right. If you find natto on its own too overpowering, try mixing in some things like green onion, mustard (plain mustard powder reconstituted with water, not the kind prepared with vinegar) or prepared wasabi. You can also try mixing in a fresh raw beaten egg.

Supermarket class natto is very cheap in Japan - e.g. a 2-pack for 100 yen or less depending on sales, though there are more expensive kinds too.

Hi Maki,

I ate natto with plain rice. It was alright.

The exported natto I bought costs around 50% more than those in Japan, which I find to be reasonable.

I first had natto at a university guest house outside of Nagoya. I had *no idea* what is was or how to eat it; I had no preparation at all for what to expect at Japanese breakfast, a meal about which I am quite ritualistic. But I was game - I opened up the little cup, and knowing no better, ate the natto straight.

And loved it! It probably helped that I brought a love for stinky cheese (les pieds de Dieu!) to the table. A Japanese professor sat down at my table and laughed at the empty natto cup. "I can't eat. I can't eat."

My love of natto turned out to be a helpful topic in all the inevitable "Is this your first time in Japan" conversations over the course of my stay. The American who loved natto from the very first time was novel enough to steer the conversation in more interesting directions.

Happily, I can find it at a Japanese grocery not far from my subway stop in Manhattan. But I don't read enough Japanese (still working on it) to be able to read the packages and have any method of discriminating between one brand and another. I just end up choosing by which one has the nicest package...

One of the hostels I stayed at in Australia had quite a number of asian people staying at it too (I'm Irish by the way) and we used to have small groups who would all cook and eat together, there was maybe 3 Japanese people, one taiwanese girl and 2 Korean girls (and me) and we cooked food from home and shared it with each other. But anyway my point was that one of the Japanese boys made natto one of the evenings and dared me to try it, then said 'Oh no wait I was joking, don't eat it you will hate it!' so me being me decided I had to have a big spoonful.....
I really was'nt prepared for the taste/texture/smell... any part of the natto experiance! But I loved it! and am now craving a bowl of natto and rice - yum!

I like natto now, but didn't at first. I find that lots of green onions and hot mustard that comes with the natto pack really nullify the stinky smell. When you get used to the taste then you can use less or omit them altogether. I like this one dish at a has cold soba topped with raw quail egg, natto, green onions, and grated yamaimo, served with soy sauce(?? that's what the color and consistency look like but I'm not sure) to pour in a little as you eat. It was super slimy.

Just learning about natto for the vitamin K2 benefits, as well as other nutritional benefits. As far as nutrition goes, there isn't anything to dislike about natto. :) I'm a wuss, though, can't stand strong cheeses like blue cheese. BUT, after reading through all your comments I feel like it is an experience that I just need to add to my life. :D I have chuckled and smiled and enjoyed each and every one of your comments. I'm from the USA, state of Kansas. (Land of Oz, Dorothy and Toto are fine, ha ha.) We have a wonderful little health food store. I know they sell tofu, and I'll bet they have natto, too. If not, they'll be able to tell me how to get it. White rice isn't recommended for diabetics, but I love white rice. Might start with white rice and transition to brown rice. For middle-aged women, soybeans are also good for controlling pesky menopausal symptoms. :)

Hello Maki!

I just visited my local H-Mart and compared about ten different natto brands. I chose one without any sauce because most of the sauces contained artificial flavorings and high fructose corn syrup etc. The name was Shirakiku, it was a 4 pack and the plastic was red.

Afterwards, I prepared a carton of natto by first defrosting it in the microwave for about 10 seconds, then really vigorously stirring it with a mustard packet and a little bit of soy sauce. I topped it on sushi.

It tasted horrible - the only flavor i could detect was bitterness, plus it was a little cold. I mixed it with kimchi but the flavor did not get better.

Is natto supposed to be like this? I very much wanted to enjoy it. I've read so much about its health benefits and its texture was completely OK with me. I think my bad experience was because there was no sauce with the natto. What do you think? What kind of seasonings should I put into the natto next time to substitute the sauce?

Thank you so much!

Ew, bitter is not a flavor that should be in natto. You probably got a bad batch....I hope you can get a refund :(

...and Shirakiku is usually a decent nattō...

Your blogs are the best Maki! Tried Natto for the first time yesterday with rice and the soy/mustard it came with (was surprised to find it in the frozen section of supermarket here in Perth, Western Australia.). I can't say it was an immediate taste sensation to me but I will give it another try with some of the other suggestions for accompaniments :)

I also downloaded this cute yet silly iPhone app and the developers are donating part proceeds of any sales to Japan:

Hey Maki!

I personally love nattou, and have bought nattoukin. I just did an experiment - having it grow on cooked, sweet potato, and the result was actually pretty good!
I am thinking of trying it on rice as well as perhaps vegetables.

Btw, I've never gotten a satisfying result, fermenting daizu. It's never really stringy, sticky or has the real flavour. Most times, it has tasted and smelled like ammonia and tuned out bitter, and the bacteria has always more or less formed in blotches rather than as a film *sigh*... I will have to keep trying, I guess.

I love natto! I don't understand what's the fuss about the smell, gooey yes, but smell? I think Parmesan and blue cheese (which I also love) stink more :P I do agree that the texture takes getting used to, but it's what makes a hot bowl of rice much easier to eat when my throat is extra dry and my taste buds still half asleep in the morning. Then again, I was born with adventurous taste buds and I haven't had food that actually grossed me out, I'm talking about cooked insects in Thailand, tripe of various animals, chicken feet at the dimsum restaurant (yay!), fish eyes and stuff like that, I would try anything new in a heart beat and usually like it, I mean there must be a good reason these things are delicacies in other food cultures right?

I just had my first contact with natto, and it was, like mentioned above, just bitter. not smelly, but no taste of nuts (unless you think of really bitter nuts) either. May it be that it had gone bad because I had to transport it for 1,5 hour without cooling? Do I have to put it in the fridge or in the freezer? Maybe I should bring an insulated lunch bag next time to the shop.

It sounds like the natto may have been a bit off to begin with - it should not taste bitter by any means. The nattokinase bacteria that makes natto what it is does love to grow at warm temperatures, and if it gets too developed the beans can get rather nasty.

thanks, next time I'll take an insulated bag with me to prevent bacteria hyperactivity.

I picked up some natto at an Asian market while I was out of town. When I got home and tried it, it wasn't at all what I was expecting. I found the smell and flavor to be very mild. I can't read Japanese... perhaps I got hold of a low-odor variety?

Here is the product I bought:

Any insights?

I tried natto for the first time this week. I have to say it isn't what I expected. I expected a sharp flavor, but I find it actually very mild.

My first experience - mixed up the whole carton with the sauce and mustard and dumped it over some rice (the natto/rice ratio was just more than half natto). This turned out not to be the best approach for a first go.... :(

Now, I'd bought four containers of it and I'm not one to pass judgement on something so new to me too quickly..... :)

So.... my second experience - I used a package to make the fried rice recipe you posted. Very nice.

Today was my third experience - I mixed up a third of the package with some sauce and mustard and mixed it with some brown rice (this time more rice than natto). Really very nice! I will most definitely continue to eat it.

I also noticed another nice aspect of it. It is very agreeable (so far) with my digestive system. :)

A natto to rice ratio of about 1:3 sounds about right. Yep, natto is very easily digested - far more than unfermented cooked soy beans!

I eat pig intestines and I'm sure most people know what they smell like before they're cooked. However, I can't eat natto to save my life. I've tried it several times especially when I lived on Okinawa and stayed at my stepmom's house (she's Okinawan) and I just couldn't get into it. I wish I could though because it's so healthy. Any advise on getting to past my disgust with natto is appreciated.

I don't see any reason why anyone should try to force themselves to like a food they don't. If you've tried it, and you didn't like it, that's that! There are quite a few foods that fall into that category for me. Everyone has different tastes. It's not a competitive sport. (Besides, just because you can tolerate animal innards doesn't mean you can tolerate natto, since they have entirely different kinds of stinkiness. Personally I have problems with things like andouilles and chitlings and tripe, while my husband loves them, but he can't tolerate natto either.)

I am not Japanese, nor grew up eating natto. I discovered natto as an adult and I love it right away! I love it so much that I craved natto when I was pregnant. My fave breakfast now is a bowl of hot rice with natto and lots of hot mustard, or natto fried rice. I've also made some rice porridge with natto for my baby as baby food, he loves it, too, to the horror of my poor husband.

I've tried natto. When I was making it, it made me gag, but when I ate it, it wasn't too bad of course I did mix it into the rice.

I think natto fried rice is very tasty.
You can maybe fry natto on a dry pan until it dries, or use the oven? I really like this stinky snack of very dry natto beans.

I have had some pretty good natto sweet candy.

I went to a Japanese grocery store yesterday and finally bought some Natto. I am not Japanese and I've never tried Natto before. I have to say I like it very much. I don't find Natto has a bad odour either. Will definitely go back to the Japanese grocer and try different brand... So far, I really like the Yamada Hokkaido No Mamekotsubu compare to the Ohyama Mugitoro Natto (Have no idea what that means);-)Cheers!

I love natto!

As a[n American] vegan now living in Japan, I find natto is cheap, delicious, and filling meal--even on the go. I actually find it to have an almost "cheesy" flavor to it. I've become immune to the smell, though I always am sure to have mints or a toothbursh around post-meal.

I love putting a few drops of sriracha or hot sauce in mine sometimes for a kick.

(Natto maki rolls are also a favorite of mine.)

I've found a few recipes for soups among other things using natto; looking forward to trying a few new methods of eating it.