What Is Natto

What the FLIK is... Natto

Recently this funky, sticky food has been making its way on to menus and grocery store shelves. Its recent popularity has left many deeming it a “superfood,” so we're digging in to find out all there is to know about this Japanese breakfast food.

What is Natto?

Natto, simply put, is fermented soybeans. Soybeans are fermented with the specific bacteria B. subtilis, which gives the beans their pungent smell and stringy, sticky, slimy texture. Natto is commonly eaten in Japan as a high protein breakfast over rice and topped with savory components such as soy sauce, mustard, and scallions. Many also incorporate a raw egg yolk to add a silky texture to the dish.

F is for Fermentation

We know it may sound scary to purposefully add bacteria to your food, but this probiotic bacteria is safe to consume. When making natto, fermentation occurs when the bacteria predigest the protein and carbohydrates in the soybeans causing a change in texture, flavor, smell, and even the nutritional content. 

How exactly does the bacteria ferment the beans? B. subtilis bacterium can form a dormant cell, or a spore, that can withstand conditions other unhealthy bacteria cannot. When the soybeans are heated to a very high temperature, all other bacteria are destroyed, and these healthy spores survive. The soybeans then sit in warm, humid temperatures which allow the B. subtilis to get to work and start fermenting the beans. The sticky, stringy slime that engulfs the beans and gives natto its unique appearance is called a biofilm, a protective environment for the bacteria to grow in.

Fermented Soybeans Natto

How Does it Taste?

Natto has a strong odor similar to some soft cheeses or truffles. Its flavor comes from the biofilm that is created in the fermentation process. This particular biofilm is made of polyglutamate. Our taste buds perceive glutamate as a savory flavor often referred to as umami. The longer the beans ferment, the more stringy the biofilm becomes, which translates to a more pungent flavor. 

Natto is unique from other fermented foods because its fermentation takes place in alkaline conditions. Other fermented foods, such as yogurt, sauerkraut, and kimchi, ferment under acidic conditions, which results in a sour flavor. The combination of the alkaline environment and glutamate give natto a much different flavor profile than other fermented foods you might be more familiar with.

What’s the Nutritional Hype?

Many scientists and dietitians have taken a special interest in natto and have recently been studying its nutritional benefits. Natto contains protein, fiber, calcium, and iron, all important for a balanced, healthy diet. In addition, it is one of the highest food sources of vitamin K2, known to activate a protein that allows calcium to bind to our bones, improving bone density and reducing the risk of fracture. Early research has also shown natto to have a natural blood thinning ability due to an enzyme, nattokinase, which has been shown to dissolve blood clots in animal studies. Therefore, natto is thought to be beneficial to anyone looking to improve overall cardiovascular health. Lastly, natto is a probiotic, which supports overall gut health and immunity.

How to Chow Down

Natto is an acquired taste and definitely an acquired texture. We've seen natto sold in small, Styrofoam packages and we've also seen boutique varieties sold in small, glass jars. We recommend mixing a small scoop with rice or quinoa, and topping with roasted or pickled vegetables, soy sauce, sriracha, or any other flavorful condiment. 


At FLIK Hospitality Group we believe in great food, great service, and great people. Our wellness first approach ensures our food supports healthy and delicious choices, specially curated by our team of culinary experts and registered dietitians. At FLIK, we believe in seasonality in sourcing our ingredients and providing a customized approach to the culinary and hospitality needs of each client. Our dedication to providing quality hospitality service is unparalleled in the industry.

Have feedback or questions for our team? Email us at flikblog@compass-usa.com.