The Natto Connection
A friend of mine is nuts about natto, both for its umami-ness and for its superfood benefits. Indeed, if you look at how the Japanese lead for longevity in Asia, and how apart from Sumo wrestlers the natives of Japan are mostly slim and blessed with abundant hair, the secret must stem from their diet.
The natto-making process involves adding bacillus natto, a beneficial bacterium, to fermenting soy beans. Some 200,000 tons of this sticky, stringy, strong-smelling fermented food is eaten in Japan every year.
Now, natto has been part of the Japanese diet for over 1,000 years, and is treated as a yummy ingredient as well as a health food. But it was only in 1980 that science backed natto’s folk reputation as a heart and vascular disease fighter.
The magic of natto was revealed to be nattokinase as discovered by Dr Hiroyuki Sumi, a researcher at the University of Chicago. When Dr Sumi dropped a drop of nattokinase onto a blood clot in a Petri dish at body temperature, the clot was gone within 18 hours.
Known as a systemic enzyme, nattokinase breaks down deposits that stick to the walls of blood vessels resulting in clots. When circulation improves, nutrients reach tissues and waste is removed.
Now that we all know the value of fermented foods and enzymes, we can appreciate why Japanese cuisine is so highly rated by both the gourmet and the natural food camps.
No country in the world has as many varieties of fermented foods as Japan. Besides yogurt, vinegar, wine, cheese, kimchi, sauerkraut, tempeh, thosai/dosa, kefir, miso and a bunch of other soy-based products, there’s natto – definitely an acquired taste.
Preparation requires stirring – as many as 424 times as advised by some traditionalists (you’ll need a meter to keep count) but the modern time-challenged Japanese say 15 times clockwise and 15 times counter clockwise is enough for the best taste.
The more practical say just stir it until strings or the Natto web goes away. In Singapore, you can only find natto in a Japanese supermart like Meidi-Ya at Liang Court or the Isetan supermarket, Shaw House.
Eat it with rice (preferably the short-grain sticky rice for an authentic feel), a dash of soy sauce or tamari, bonito flakes, nori (seaweed), an egg and chopped spring onion. Or spoon some on a block of soft tofu. So simple, and so healthy.
And if you really can’t stomach natto, try a supplement.