-Nevin Thompson | Masae Okabayashi
Amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, a beloved Japanese food has become even more popular. Like toilet paper, hand sanitizer and medical masks, natto, a sticky, stringy and some say even smelly fermented dish made from soybeans that is believed to boost the immune system has disappeared from supermarket shelves in Japan in March and April. Luckily, however, it’s possible for anyone to make natto at home.
Natto, sometimes compared with cheese, is a traditional Japanese dish made by fermenting soybeans with a bacillus subtilis culture, or nattokin. Loved for its rich umami flavor, natto is a popular and inexpensive daily staple in many parts of Japan, and is eaten on over rice or toast, in sushi rolls, in spaghetti, or by itself, mixed with hot karashi mustard and citrus ponzu sauce.
In mid-March, Nexer, a consumer research company in Japan, found that nearly 40 percent of Japanese people they surveyed incorporated special foods into their diet in order to “boost their immune systems” (免疫力を高める). While garlic and ginger were popular foods in the survey, fermented foods such as yogurt and natto topped the list.
Also in March, rumors spread on social media that natto prevents COVID-19. These rumors were sparked mainly because, in prefectures traditionally associated with natto, such as Ibaraki and Iwate, COVID-19 infection rates have been relatively low. As shoppers started hoarding natto, Japan’s Consumer Affairs Agency issued a bulletin debunking the idea the food could protect against COVID-19.
By late April, there were still shortages of natto in Japan, and the food began to be identified in the media as just one of a variety of quack COVID-19 “cures” that also included “wood creosote” (正露丸, seirogan), black tea, garlic, and cocaine.
Natto linked to increased longevity in Japan
However, while natto will definitely not help protect against COVID-19, the fermented “superfood” may actually be connected with increased longevity, according to two recent studies in Japan. In one study, which tracked eating habits and health outcomes of nearly 29,000 people in the city of Takayama between 1992 and 2008, participants who consumed one package of natto at least once a week had a 25 percent lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease than those who reported rarely eating it.
Sticky, stringy natto, ready to be served. Photo by Nevin Thompson.
Another study of about 90,000 middle-aged and elderly people over 15 years conducted by Japan’s National Cancer Center found that intake of fermented soy foods, especially natto, was correlated with — if not directly linked to — a lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer.
While the connection between natto consumption and increased longevity has not been proven, one theory is that nattokinase, an enzyme found in the sticky strands of natto, has been shown to dissolve blood clots and in turn potentially help mitigate heart disease.
‘Fermentation brings intoxication, joy, and freedom’
Despite its irresistible umami flavor or reputation as a superfood, some people are put off by natto’s distinctive nutty aroma and sticky texture. Natto is generally more popular in Tokyo and other parts of eastern Japan compared to the rest of the country.
Taking a shortcut in the fermentation process and using packaged natto as a starter when making natto at home. Photo by Nevin Thompson.
“I wasn’t keen on natto either, in the beginning,” says journalist, author and photographer John Ashburne, in an interview with Global Voices. “It was when Sasha (a chef and Ashburne’s wife) prepared it with a raw quails egg and sliced scallions – both of which served to lessen somewhat the pong – that I began to appreciate it.”
Ashburne, a longtime resident of Kyoto and a self-described mushroom cultivator and forager, is a well-known writer on Japanese food who has written a Lonely Planet guidebook on the subject.
Ashburne also makes his own natto at home.
“Fermentation brings intoxication, joy, and freedom. You can escape the tyranny of the food industry by making your own natto,” says Ashburne. “There’s a sense of creating something special, individual and something almost impossible to replicate exactly twice. Even if I wanted it to be, I don’t think my natto would be exactly the same every time.”
Ashburne says he likes to vary the beans he uses, and his process, sometimes steaming the beans, sometimes boiling them, or sometimes preparing over a slow heat with konbu, often without.
“It’s as if the micro-organisms have a mischievous quality, with microscopic minds of their own. Fermentation on a non-industrial scale strikes me more like alchemy than cookery,” says Ashburne.
How to make natto at home
Outside of Japan and other countries where natto is also popular, it can be hard to find it in supermarkets. However, with the right ingredients and cooking equipment, natto can be made at home.
Using one low-temperature method, natto can be made in the oven using sterilized glass jars or even plastic containers. The easiest method for making natto is by using an Instant Pot or pressure cooker. A key challenge will be finding natto starter spores, which contain the nattokin necessary for fermentation. One shortcut is to use packaged natto as a starter for a larger batch.
Nigeria’s Former Jonathan Tells African Leaders To Put Humanity First
Joke Falaju, Abuja Bags African Heritage awardFormer President Goodluck Jonathan has urged African leaders privilege to hold public offices to become servants of the people, and not turn themselves into the “bosses of the people”.Jonathan stated this while receiving the African Democracy and Peace Icon…
7th Edition Connected Banking Summit East Africa – Innovation & Excellence Awards 2023 Concludes
POSTED ON MARCH 28, 2023 BY AFRICA BUSINESS The Summit brought together the best and brightest minds in the banking, financial services, fintechs and techfin sectors. The event, which took place on 7th March 2023, featured insightful speakers, award-winning companies, and top-notch sponsors. Attendees were treated to a range…
2020 Awards | Social Media For Social Good Award Announces 100 Micro & Macro Social Media Influencers For Good
Social Media For Social Good Award Announces 100 Micro & Macro Social Media Influencers For Good and Set To Award 25 Of Them On The 13th Of June 2020. The most anticipated list of Nigerians using social media for social good which is curated by…
Ergonomic Furniture Dealer Formfunc Studio Awarded SA’s First 6-Star Green Star Award
-African Independent The Green Building Council of South Africa (GBCSA) has awarded Cape Town-based Formfunc Studio, a leading ergonomic furniture supplier, a 6-star Green Star rating following the recent fit-out of their office, showroom and DC in Johannesburg. The project, led by specialist sustainability and…
The Risk And Reward Of ChatGPT In Cybersecurity
Juan is an experienced CTO with a demonstrated history of working in the computer and network security industry. He is an information technology professional skilled in SAP and Oracle applications, computer forensics, vulnerabilities research, IPS/IDS and information security. Unless you’ve been on a retreat in…
Explained – History Of Money From Fiat To Crypto
What is money? Money as a concept has been a cornerstone of human civilization and economic development. To start with the latter, money is a method of storing value and worth, and it also functions as a medium of exchange that allows individuals to exchange…
Studies Show That Nigerian Crypto Foreign Investment Is At A Record Low
Foreign direct investment in Nigeria fell by 33% last year due to a severe shortage of dollars, which discouraged crypto companies from expanding into the country. The largest economy in Africa has a foreign investment problem despite exponential growth in crypto adoption. The National Bureau…
Growing The Bitcoin Development Ecosystem In Africa
– Abubakar Nur Khalil | Bitcoin Magazine Bitcoin development in Africa, with a proper regulatory environment, could equally accelerate the continent and the technology. In this piece, we’ll be analyzing the current state of the Bitcoin developer ecosystem in Africa, ways to improve it and…