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Story Learn about Japan’s Unique Superfood, Natto
Tour the history and Benefits of Natto at the Natto Museum
By JNTO on 2 August 2022

Natto or fermented soybean can be quite polarising to foreigners though it is a widely beloved food in Japan. It has a distinctive smell that is often likened to aged cheese with a viscous texture, and there is so much about this Japanese superfood that makes it interesting to try. 


What is natto and ways to enjoy


bowl of natto with egg on top


Natto is made from fermented whole soybeans and is often enjoyed as a breakfast staple, served atop a bowl of rice alongside karashi mustard, soy, or tare sauce. Raw egg and sliced scallions are often added in the combination for a hearty, protein-rich meal.


natto maki


Natto has a nutty, savoury, almost umami-like flavour that makes it a versatile ingredient,  so other than eating it with rice, you can add it into your miso soup, roll it up in maki rolls, or even enjoy it fusion-style on top of pasta or a salad. 


What’s so great about natto


woman eating a meal with natto


Aside from its versatility, natto also scores top marks for its health benefits. The probiotics in natto are said to help with gut health as well as reduce cholesterol levels. It is also rich in calcium and contains vitamin K2, which contributes to stronger bones and prevents calcium from accumulating in arteries respectively. 


So how did this nutrient-rich food come about?


natto beans


There are several different accounts of how natto was discovered, but one narration holds that it dates back to the 1080s or the 11th century when chief commander Minamoto no Yoshiie and his army were campaigning in the north-east region of the Japanese archipelago. 


The soldiers left for a neighbouring town after an attack and ordered farmers to hand them their stock of soybeans. The farmers boiled the soybeans and wrapped them in rice straw before they were cooled down.


natto beans in straw


A few days later, they opened the straw packets and discovered the beans had changed consistency.  Finding the newly discovered fermented beans delicious, the soldiers offered them to the general who also took a liking to its unique flavour and named it natto, which means “beans destined to the shogun”.


Delve deeper into natto’s origins and benefits


takano foods natto museum entrance

©Takano Foods


One of the most fun ways to discover more about natto is by heading to Noda in Omitama City, Ibaraki Prefecture, where you will find the Takano Foods Natto Museum. Takano Foods is one of the biggest and most popular natto producers in Japan, with the characteristic Okame being a ubiquitous feature on all their packaging. Their main production plant is located in Noda, which is close to Mito City, said to be the birthplace of natto. 


natto being made at takano foods

©Takano Foods


At the Takano Foods Natto Museum, learn about the origins of natto and other notable historical events linked to natto consumption in Japan through an informative exhibition. With the 90-minute museum visit and factory tour, you can get up close with the natto-making process and learn how to make natto at home. Of course, you will also get to try the gooey deliciousness at the tour!


ℹ️ The natto factory tour is temporarily closed to curb with the spread of Coronavirus. Please visit the official website for more information.


Takano Foods Natto Museum
Address: 1542 Noda, Omitama City, Ibaraki 311-3411, Japan
Website: www.takanofoods.co.jp (Japanese only)


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