How to Eat Natto

Natto is a popular Japanese breakfast food. You’ll find it in many family refrigerators. The nation consumes about 7.7 billion 40-gram packets a year. That’s a lot of natto!

Natto is fermented, like cheese, but it’s made from soybeans. Natto is very nutritious.

One origin story for natto goes something like this: Back in the 10th century, a samurai on an expedition told local farmers to give his party some soybeans. On short notice, the locals quickly wrapped the cooked soybeans in straw and gave it to the samurai. A few days later, the soybeans had fermented. When the samurai tried it, he loved the taste. It quickly became the food of choice for the samurai and his party and later spread throughout Japan. (There are a couple competing origin stories, too.)

To enjoy natto, mix it with soy sauce and some Japanese mustard and pour it over white rice. In Japan, a raw egg would also be mixed in, making a dish known as tamagokake gohan, the most popular way to eat natto. The raw egg masks the distinct flavor of the fermented beans while the umami of the natto and the egg blend well. The soy sauce adds a sharp accent to the dish. The combination of natto and raw egg is exquisite. We can already hear you going, “Oh! My! God!” when you try it.


If you are worried about consuming raw eggs, the Japanese government places the world’s strictest sanitation standards on the production, distribution, and sale of eggs. Chicken feed is highly regulated too. The eggs are shipped only from government-approved facilities. And every egg is cleaned, dried, sanitized, inspected, weighed, and packaged in a strictly controlled sterile environment. The eggs are then in an aseptic condition and ready to be shipped. Each package must also indicate the shelf life if the eggs before salmonella infestation occurs if stored at room temperature. The combination of natto and raw egg is so good, no one complains about the extra precautions taken to make raw eggs safe in Japan. So if you’re visiting Japan, try the natto and raw egg combo!

Or check out the approximately 17 million natto recipes online. You could make natto on toast, a natto omelet, natto and tomato bruschetta, and on and on. When you consider that natto is similar to cheese, the wealth of recipes makes sense.



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Yasushi Kurita was born in Tokyo. He has spent the last 30 years as a writer for print publications and TV. When he was in college, he spent two years in New York. His favorite band is the Atlanta Rhythm Section, making him one of about 15 Japanese people who actually like that band.