Nattō (納豆) is a traditional Japanese food made from soybeans that have been fermented with Bacillus subtilis var. natto. It is sometimes served as a breakfast food. It is served with karashi mustard, soy sauce, and sometimes Japanese bunching onion. Nattō is often considered an acquired taste because of its powerful smell, strong flavor, and sticky, slimy texture. Within Japan, nattō is most popular in the eastern regions, including Kantō, Tōhoku, and Hokkaido, and a 2009 survey revealed that 70.2% of Japanese people find the taste pleasant, and others who may not find the taste of the food pleasant still eat it for health benefits.
|Place of origin||Japan|
|Main ingredients||Fermented soybeans|
Sources differ about the earliest origin of nattō. One theory is that nattō was codeveloped in multiple locations in the distant past, since it is simple to make with ingredients and tools commonly available in Japan since ancient times. However, the many different sources seem to make agreement on one thing: nattō is believed to be made from the encounter of boiled beans and straw.
There is the story about Minamoto no Yoshiie, who was on a campaign in northeastern Japan between 1086 AD and 1088 AD, when one day, they were attacked while boiling soybeans for their horses. They hurriedly packed up the beans, and did not open the straw bags until a few days later, by which time the beans had fermented. The soldiers ate it anyway, and liked the taste, so they offered some to Yoshiie, who also liked the taste.
Another saying about the origin of nattō was based on Prince shotoku, who wrapped the oddments of boiling soybeans in straw bags for his horse. As people happened to eat these fermented beans and found it delicious, this type of fermented stringy beans soon gained popularity in Japan because of its unique taste and strong flavor.
Before nattō, there was a similar dish of fermented black soybeans food in China called 豉(chǐ). 豉(chǐ) refers to salted, fermented-and-aged whole soybean seasonings or condiments invented in China and had been spread throughout East Asia as a merchandise. This type of food is usually made from fermented soybeans and with an ample amount of salt; however, the ingredients and producing method differ in Japan. Chinese use both black and yellow soybeans to produce 豉(chǐ) whereas Japanese nattō only uses yellow soybeans. The amount of salt used also makes difference between 豉(chǐ) and nattō on their taste and appearance. 
The cultivation method of soybeans and rice was imported from China to Japan during the Yayoi period, and later on, the circulation of salt began to flourish in Japan. This provided an opportunity for the production of 豉(chǐ) to become popular in Japan. Salt was expensive and valuable at the time, thereupon it is inferred that nattō was invented by accident during the production of 豉(chǐ).  
There was also a wooden slip excavated in Heijō-kyō, which had the Chinese character豉(chǐ) written on it. The excavation of the slip is considered an evidence to support the hypothesis that the invention of nattō was based on the Chinese product 豉(chǐ) imported to Japan.
The commercialization of nattō – Edo period
A change in the production of nattō occurred in the Taishō period (1912–1926), when researchers discovered a way to produce a nattō starter culture containing Bacillus subtilis without the need for straw, thereby simplifying the commercial production of nattō and enabling more consistent results.
Appearance and consumptionEdit
Nattō has a distinctive smell, somewhat akin to a pungent cheese. Stirring nattō produces lots of sticky strings.
Nattō is occasionally used in other foods, such as nattō sushi, nattō toast, in miso soup, tamagoyaki, salad, as an ingredient in okonomiyaki, or even with spaghetti. Sometimes soybeans are crushed and fermented. This is called hikiwari nattō.
Many find the taste unpleasant and smelly while others relish it as a delicacy. Nattō is more popular in some areas of Japan than in others. Nattō is known to be popular in the eastern Kantō region, but less popular in Kansai. A 2009 Internet survey in Japan indicated 70.2% of respondents like nattō and 29.8% do not, but out of the 29.8% who dislike nattō, about half of them eat nattō for its health benefits.
Nattō is made from soybeans, typically nattō soybeans. Smaller beans are preferred, as the fermentation process will be able to reach the center of the bean more easily. The beans are washed and soaked in water for 12 to 20 hours to increase their size. Next, the soybeans are steamed for 6 hours, although a pressure cooker may be used to reduce the time. The beans are mixed with the bacterium Bacillus subtilis, known as nattō-kin in Japanese. From this point on, care must be taken to keep the ingredients away from impurities and other bacteria. The mixture is fermented at 40 °C (104 °F) for up to 24 hours. Afterward, the nattō is cooled, then aged in a refrigerator for up to one week to allow the development of stringiness.
In nattō-making facilities, these processing steps have to be done while avoiding incidents in which soybeans are touched by workers. Even though workers use B. subtilis natto as the starting culture, which can suppress some undesired bacterial growth, workers pay extra-close attention not to introduce skin flora on to soy beans.
To make nattō at home, a bacterial culture of B. subtilis is needed. B. subtilis natto is weak in lactic acid, so it is important to prevent lactic acid bacteria from breeding. Some B. subtilis natto varieties that are closer to odorless are usually less active, raising the possibility that minor germs will breed. Bacteriophages are dangerous to B. subtilis.
Historically, nattō was made by storing the steamed soybeans in rice straw, which naturally contains B. subtilis natto. The soybeans were packed in straw and left to ferment.
End product and nutritionEdit
Today's mass-produced nattō is sold in small polystyrene containers. A typical package contains two, three, or occasionally four containers, each 40 to 50 g. One container typically complements a small bowl of rice.
Nattō has a different nutritional makeup from raw soybeans, with lower calorie content. By mass, nattō is 55% water, 18% protein, 11% fats, 5% fiber, and 5% sugars. Nattō is a source of calcium, magnesium, protein, potassium, vitamins B6, B2, and E. A serving of nattō (100g) provides 29% of the Daily value (DV) of vitamin K, 22% of the DV for vitamin C, 76% of the DV for manganese, 48% of the DV for iron, and 22% of the DV for dietary fiber. Nattō has softer dietary fiber without the high sodium content present in many other soy products, such as miso.
When B. subtilis natto breaks up soy protein, the bacteria create chains of polyglutamic acid, gamma polyglutamic acid. This polypeptide chain is unusual in that the peptide bond is found between the nitrogen and the R-group's carboxyl acid. Nattō gets its stringiness from the gamma polyglutamic acid. Its odor comes from diacetyl and pyrazines, but if it is allowed to ferment too long, then ammonia is released.
Close relatives of nattōEdit
Many countries produce similar traditional soybean foods fermented with Bacillus subtilis, such as shuǐdòuchǐ (水豆豉) of China, cheonggukjang (청국장) of Korea, thuanao (ถั่วเน่า) of Thailand, kinema of Nepal and the Himalayan regions of West Bengal and Sikkim, tungrymbai of Meghalaya, hawaijaar of Manipur, bekang um of Mizoram, akhuni of Nagaland, and piak of Arunachal Pradesh, India.
Nattō gunkan maki (Nattō sushi)
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