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July 16, 2020

The Powerful Superfood You Haven't Heard Of

Ah, Japan! More than any other country, when mentioned, it earns a passionate response.

And for good reason, too. Whether it’s the natural beauty, the unique culture or an undiagnosed anime obsession, it has been beguiling us for years. But there’s another great thing about this storied island nation—the life expectancy. With women living to an average of 87 and men to 81, Japan boasts one of the best lifespans in the world. One reason for that might be a little-known superfood — natto.

Usually eaten for breakfast, natto is made from fermented soybeans and is typically eaten atop a bed of rice. Generally mixed with condiments like soy sauce and mustard and topped with green onions or chives, people often add toppings such as egg, Japanese mountain potato or raw tuna. Shockingly, it may even be better for you than the absurd breakfast burrito you usually go for.

The invention of natto was a happy accident—like lots of our favorite things.

I can only imagine how thrilled the first caveman who invented fruit wine was. Long before the age of refrigerators, Japanese people wrapped boiled soybeans in rice straw to preserve them.

With this bacteria’s help, the naturally occurring sugars in the soybeans would ferment, transforming into — you guessed it — natto.

Now, at first glance, natto is rather slimy with a pungent smell. So one wonders what the first farmers thought of it. Perhaps they weren’t terribly pleased to find their soybeans all gooey. But on the other hand, we don’t think there were many medieval peasant foodies. They probably just gobbled it up and discovered a delicious and insanely healthy dish.

Natto is full of vitamins, protein and minerals like manganese, iron, potassium and selenium. It’s fermented, so it won’t throw off your sugar intake. And, like yogurt and kimchee (spicy Korean fermented cabbage), natto is a powerful probiotic, full of bacteria highly beneficial to your intestinal tract. Probiotics help contribute to a healthy ecosystem of bacteria in your stomach’s gut flora which has been linked to heart health, a stronger immune system and lower cholesterol. Natto can include anywhere between one million and one billion “good” bacteria per gram — far more than yogurt.

Additionally, Japanese researchers have found that natto appears to help regulate an enzyme called angiotensin, which, if you recognize the word, probably means a doctor has told you that you have high blood pressure. So… go get some natto!

As if that all isn’t enough, natto is shockingly cheap. So, let’s be honest about what ‘superfood’ really is — a marketing term, usually used to get you to buy vaguely green things of dubious effectiveness at eight times the price they should be. Well, a three pack of single servings of natto will typically cost under $3 (and less, in Japan). Natto is easy to find in the U.S. and should be carried by any Asian grocery store worth its salt. Usually found frozen, it can easily be stored for months.

Wow! Perfect, right? Natto is cheap, easy to find and good for your body in dozens of ways. So why haven’t you heard of it?

Well… the strong, fermented smell can knock you over. It takes some getting used to. Not everyone likes the taste — a mild, earthy and nutty flavor with just a hint of bitterness. That said, it mixes perfectly with white rice and adding toppings and condiments take it to the next level. Also, there’s the slime. Look at these pictures… Natto looks like alien eggs in a horror movie. But if you can get past all this, we think your breakfast routine could benefit from adding a serving of natto.