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All About Natto

Natto is a Japanese probiotic superfood generally made from small soybeans. It is the richest food source of vitamin K2. Vitamin K2 is essential in both calcium absorption and making sure that the calcium ends up in the bones (and not in the vascular system which often happens to improperly absorbed calcium). Recent research studies also link proper vitamin K2 intake to reduced risk of certain cancers, diabetes, among other benefits.

Because natto is fermented and a living food it also has the highly beneficial nattokinase probiotic enzyme. Nattokinase is key in a healthy digestive system and is known to aid in digestive disorders, especially those caused by antibiotic use. Nattokinase is essential in the proper clotting mechanisms in the blood and has even been suggested to break down the plaque associated with Alzheimers Disease.

What is natto and why eat it?

Fresh Rhapsody natto covered with Bacillus subtilis

Natto – fermented whole soybeans

In line with many of our other Rhapsody products, natto is a traditional Japanese fermented food. It was traditionally made by fermenting small soybeans in rice straw. The bacillus subtillis culture naturally present in the rice straw inoculated the soybeans, creating a nutrient dense food.

Natto has a very distinct smell, flavor and texture. It is ready to eat and best eaten at room temperature. Traditionally it is stirred well before eating it, to develop the stringy sticky threads it is known for. Many relish it as a delicacy while others have learned to love it for it’s extraordinary health benefits. The beans used for natto beans are small soybeans so that the bacteria (Bacillus subtilis) can permeate and ferment the bean more thoroughly. Soybeans need to be well soaked, properly cooked, and fermented to significantly reduce unwanted substances such as phytic acid, lectins, and saponins and allow a thorough breakdown through enzymatic activity to yield an easy to digest, tasty, and nutrient rich probiotic food. Some highlights of the health benefits of natto are as follows.

1) High in Vitamin K2.

Vitamin K2 is necessary for proper bone development and maintaining a healthy bone mineral density. It assists in calcium absorption to aid in creating and maintaining healthy bones, protecting against osteoporosis. While assisting the absorption of calcium for the bones, it also helps keep the vascular system clear of calcification. This argument was made stronger when research showed that Japanese who eat natto on a daily basis are at much lower risk for bone fractures than Western countries where vitamin K2 deficiency is more common. A Recommended Daily Allowance of vitamin K2 has not been established, but upto 200mcg might be an adult’s daily need. You will find that in less than one ounce of natto.

2) Contains Nattokinase.

Nattokinase is an enzyme that helps break down blood clots (a so-called fybrinolitic). As you get older your body’s ability to create plasmin (the natural enzyme that breaks down blood clots) diminishes, while the ability and rate of creating clots increases. Nattokinase can take the place of plasmin in breaking down these blot clots. It has been suggested that nattokinase can help with the prevention of Alzheimer’s and diabetes, although more study needs to be done to make this better understood.

3) PQQ

Pyrroloquinoline Quinone or PQQ is an essential nutrient which actively promotes the formation of mitochondria, subunits in cells that are responsible for the healthy functioning of cells. Studies have found their beneficial role in maintaining memory, cognitive health, and as a cardio and neuro protective compound. New research have shown natto to be a uniquely high source of PQQ.

4) Probiotic

Natto is fermented and is made using the Bacillus subtilis natto bacteria. This bacteria is helpful in aiding digestive disorders. It is said that in ancient Japan the Samurai’s used it daily and would even feed it to their horses to increase their speed, health and vitality. The B. subtilus bacteria can live out it’s whole life cycle in the human gut, which not all probiotics are capable of. This makes natto a highly effective aid in creating a healthy environment in your digestive system.

Stringy natto

Stir natto and it gets even stringier

5) High Quality Vegetable Protein.

Natto has 18 grams of protein available per 100g serving. It contains a broad range of amino acids and is very nearly a complete protein. When paired with rice, it supplies all the amino acids to make a complete protein. A big advantage is, that it is fermented, which means predigested and easy to absorb.

Other Nutrition Data

One serving of natto (about 100g/3.5oz) contains:

  • 22% RDA Dietary Fiber 22% RDA Calcium
  • 22% RDA Vitamin C 48% RDA Iron
  • 6% Vitamin B6 76% Manganese
  • 29% Magnesium 21% Potassium
  • 20% Zinc

How much natto to eat? Traditionally natto is eaten in small portions of about 1.5 ounces several times per week. Because of a general deficiency in nutrients found in natto you might find yourself attracted to eating more than that initially. Your body is basically playing catch up. Dietary changes and the industrialization of food production has led to deficiencies unimaginable 50 years ago. Fermented foods such as natto, tempeh, miso, sauerkraut, pickles, and so on, play an important part in regaining the health we once took for granted.

Natto is usually made from a small variety of soybean. It can be made with large soybeans, resulting in a different taste and texture. Organic natto soybeans are not available in the United States at this time, so we have to contend with non-GMO soybeans for now. The folks that we get our natto soybeans from practice progressive farming techniques such as crop rotations to strengthen the soil and reduce pesticide use. However, they are not organic which we would prefer. We are in conversation with local farmers in the hopes that if we create the need for natto beans (by making natto), they would grow them. We have a few promising prospects and have high hopes for making natto with certified organic soybeans in the future.

Refrigerate and consume by the date on the container, or freeze and consume within a few weeks of thawing.

Some References: (search natto).

New York Times article on natto

Also read about natto on our blog HERE. And if you want to be part of a conversation on natto go to: