Climbing Michi's Ladder: Natto

Monday, February 28, 2011 | 0 comments »

By Denis Faye

If you're asking how an obscure Japanese foodstuff made from fermented soybeans found its way onto Michi's Ladder, I don't have an answer for you. Such is the magical mystery of Michi.

The origin of natto isn't completely clear, but one possible version dates back to Japan's great shogun Minamoto no Yoshiie. Legend has it that his men headed into battle sometime around 1087 A.D., leaving some recently boiled soybeans unattended for several days. When they returned, the beans had fermented, smelling like cheese with the consistency of stringy paste. Undaunted, the warriors tasted the beans and liked them.

The fact that they were willing to eat food in this state of decay might explain why the Minamoto clan no longer rules Japan, but luck was on their side that day. Natto, as it would eventually be named, turned out to be highly nutritious.

The nutrition facts

There are a number of proposed health benefits to natto, such as the claim that the presence of the compound pyrazine and the enzyme nattokinase can reduce blood clotting. If that's a draw for you, these claims are definitely worth more research.

Otherwise, natto is still filled with good old-fashioned nutrition. Half a cup contains 186 calories, 10 grams of fat (2 of which are saturated), 13 grams of carbs, 16 grams of protein, and 5 grams of fiber. For vitamins, you'll find 19 percent of the recommended daily allowance (RDA)* for vitamin C; 26 percent for vitamin K; 10 percent for riboflavin and thiamin; and little bits of vitamin B6, folate, and pantothenic acid. For minerals, there's 29 percent of the RDA for calcium, 42 percent for iron, 25 percent for magnesium, 15 percent for phosphorus, 18 percent for potassium and zinc, 29 percent for copper, and 67 percent for manganese.

How do you eat this stuff?

Most people eat natto straight or on rice with a little soy sauce or mustard. I'll tell you right now, it's an acquired taste. Before you gross out completely, though, consider this: You've been eating fermented milk as cheese and yogurt longer than you can remember and fermented grapes as wine longer than you care to remember, so what makes fermented soy beans any weirder?

1 cup of natto (175 g)
Calories Protein Fiber Carbs Fat Total
371 19 g 25 g 9 g 31 g