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What is Natto? The Japanese Soybean Superfood

Natto is a Japanese food made from fermented soybeans with unique characteristics. It has an ammonia-like odor, a mucus-like consistency, and a taste that only 62% of Japanese people enjoy. However, being fermented, it has recognized health benefits.

This traditional food has three kinds:

  • Hamanatto.
  • Itohiki.
  • Daitokuji natto.

Hamatto and daitokuji are prepared by adding mold for 24 hours. For itohiki, bacteria are added and it is cultured for 24 hours without adding salt.

Its main benefit, always, is that it is a probiotic. Here we will analyze natto as a functional food. Don’t miss it.

What is Natto?

Natto is a traditional Japanese food made from fermented soybeans. It is not made with just any bacteria. Bacillus natto, which gives the product its name, is used. The soybeans are left with unusual sensory characteristics, which have made this food controversial.

Its texture is gelatinous, like a kind of slime or mucus. The smell is ammonia-like and it is usually served separately in restaurants, so as not to disturb the rest of the diners.

Although the taste is a little more pleasant than its smell, few people really like it. However, as it is considered a beneficial food, there are many who consume it.

A 100-gram serving of natto provides the following:

  • Calories: 211.
  • Protein: 19 grams.
  • Fat: 11 grams.
  • Sugar: 13 grams.
  • Fiber: 5.4 grams.
  • Complex carbohydrates: 4.9 grams.
  • Saturated fat: 1.6 grams.
  • Vitamin C: 13 milligrams.
  • Iron: 8.6 milligrams.
  • Potassium: 729 milligrams.
  • Calcium: 217 milligrams.

A Japanese probiotic

When natto is made, whole soybeans are washed and soaked overnight in hot water. These seeds are then cooked for 20 to 30 minutes in a pressure cooker.

The cooked seeds are stored at 45 degrees Celsius before inoculating the probiotic bacterial strain. It is then left to ferment for 18 to 20 hours.

Bacillus natto has been found in animal studies to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, enzymatic and immunomodulatory properties. Furthermore, in a treatment for obese mice, the bacterium was able to diversify the intestinal flora of the subjects investigated.

But not only that, it significantly reduced the body weight of the animals. In addition, triglycerides and total cholesterol were lowered.

Moreover, it was found that this Bacillus worked as a probiotic when used in pig feed for 28 days. To confirm the theory, 90 pigs were fed Bacillus natto for 35 and 40 days. The authors of the publication emphasize the antibiotic potential, as the presence of the bacillus counteracted Escherichia coli.

But not all studies were conducted in animals. Another more recent one looked at the effects on the human gut microbiota of consuming natto capsules.

It was found that there was a significant increase in bifidobacteria in the people studied. Bifidobacteria are microorganisms that inhabit the gut flora and are associated with overall good health. They can break down food and fight pathogenic microorganisms.

Other benefits of natto

Natto also has other benefits, as it is considered a superfood. Let’s see in detail.

1. Inhibits viral infections

In scientific studies it was determined that patients treated with an extract of natto inhibited viral infections, such as severe acute respiratory syndrome due to coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) and bovine herpesvirus 1 (BHV-1). According to the authors, this is achieved by degrading the viral particles.

Another study demonstrated how the enzyme nattokinase is able to destroy the S protein of the coronavirus. This protein is essential for the entry of the virus into cells. The analysis showed that the S protein on the cell surface was degraded when nattokinase was added to the culture medium.

2. Helps with cardiovascular diseases

Research showed that nattokin, the most active ingredient in natto, has fibrinolytic activity, antihypertensive, hypolipidemic, antiatherosclerotic, antiplatelet and neuroprotective effects.

Early studies indicated that nattokin enhanced thrombolytic activities. It is suggested that this is due to antithrombotic, anticoagulant, antioxidant and lipid-lowering effects. Another study described how nattoquine supplementation, 9 times daily, was effective in suppressing the progression of atherosclerosis in patients with atherosclerotic plaques. Treatment with the compound lasted 26 weeks.

The effect of nattoquine on arterial hypertension has also been analyzed. Supplementation was applied for 8 weeks to patients with high blood pressure and it was concluded that both systolic and diastolic blood pressure were reduced.

How to prepare homemade natto?

The Bacillus subtilis natto strain should be used in the preparation of natto, because it is the one that produces the unique and characteristic fermentation of the product. These ingredients are required for this purpose:

  • Water.
  • 500 grams of soy beans.
  • 1 gram of Bacillus subtillis natto spores (or also 50 grams of natto already prepared).

To begin, all the instruments to be used must be boiled to avoid cross-contamination. Once this is done, the soybeans are soaked for 12 hours, although many recommend leaving them for up to a whole day.

When they are removed from the softening phase, they should be cooked for 15 minutes in a pressure cooker or over medium heat for 6 hours. When cooked, they are removed from the heat, drained, and allowed to cool to room temperature. Then, they should be placed in a warm place, until they reach a temperature of about 50 degrees Celsius. You will need a thermometer.

When it is at that temperature is that you should add the bacteria. If you do not have the Bacillus natto powder, you can put 50 grams of prepared natto. Stir so that the bacteria is well integrated with the cooked soybeans.

Let it ferment at a constant temperature of 40 degrees Celsius for 24 hours. You can place it in the oven or in a yogurt maker to achieve the ideal fermentation.

When fermentation occurs, it is ready to eat. Although many let it macerate in the cold of the refrigerator for 1 to 3 more days.

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