Natto (Fermented Soybeans) with Somen Noodles

Posted by on July 18, 2011 in Baby's Food, Blog, Japanese Cuisine Favorites, Pasta & Noodles, Rice & Sushi, Toddler, Vegetables & Vegetarian | 14 comments


Great news! Bebe E graduated from “Tadpole” to “Guppy” at her swim school! (In other words, from beginner to intermediate.) Hurray for Bebe E! OK… I admit that I am an overly proud parent who is using this blog to boast about her child’s accomplishment, but seriously, can you blame this first-time parent?!?

Rather than continue to gloat about Bebe E’s achievement, I will share with you the school that we attend and why we chose this school over other swim classes available in our area.

We attend Waterworks Aquatics. They have locations in three cities across Los Angeles and Orange County. Their focus is on water safety versus water play. This means that our class is very focused. Fortunately, we are given “free play” time before and after class so that we can spend some time in the pool playing with toys and hanging-out.  So our goals for the beginner class were to get comfortable going under the water for a slow three second count (with adult assistance) and also being comfortable floating on the back (with adult assistance).  The school’s goal is to get kids comfortable with being under water (if they happen to accidentally fall in the pool) and roll over and float on their back to breath (and not drown). I think it’s a great goal.

From what I understand, in the intermediate, or Guppy, class we focus more on learning to kick while going underwater simultaneously with less adult assistance (i.e. short periods of actual swimming alone) and rolling over onto the back (and kicking) from a face down position (a learned response to prevent drowning). I’m not sure how Bebe E will adjust to her new, more challenging class but hopefully she will continue to enjoy her time in the pool.

Summer water safety event: Bebe E, Aya-chan and I got a tour of the fire engine and ambulance on display. We also got to meet Sweetie the Duck, a few fire fighters, paramedics and police officers. Then we got to take a swim in the outdoor pool after Bebe E scored a Junior Fire Fighter’s hat.

So what about natto?

Ahhh natto… To me, this is the quintessential Japanese food.

If you’ve never met natto, and do not already love natto, it is potentially a very offensive food and what some may refer to in a politically correct manner, as an “acquired taste”. To say that it’s aroma is not pleasant, might be an understatement for some. It is, after all, fermented.

Those of you unfamiliar with natto will:

A) Never try it because the smell is so offensive you won’t touch it with a 50-foot pole.

This is Bebe Dada. This was also me when I was younger and before I became a vegetarian for a while. My Mom used to eat this all the time when I was a kid and it always smelled so horribly foul from across the dinner table, I refused to ever try one bite. No one could pay me to eat it.

B) Try it because someone will pay you $0.25 cents to eat one smelly fermented bean.

This is Big Onechan. She ate one bean and said, “It’s not THAT bad, but I don’t want any. Can I have my quarter now? And Daddy, remember when you told me you would give me $0.10 cents if I would eat that red egg (she was referring to ikura), well you haven’t paid me for that yet.” To this day, she has not been paid for eating either natto or ikura, but any time we mention either of these, she says, “Oh yea, I remember that. Hey, you guys said you would pay me to eat those but you never did!” LOL. Now that she’s older, we can’t pay her to eat anything, although she might try to negotiate in $5 denominations.

C) Take one bite, just because you are naive and don’t know what you’re getting yourself into.

This is Bebe E. Bebe E is still learning about different foods and she’ll usually try one bite of anything you put in front of her. After that first bite, however, there’s no guarantee that she’ll take another bite. She made a funny face after I fed her natto. I’m going to try again and see if she pulls away, or if she’ll happily chew a few fermented soy beans. (Bebe E is now a toddler and she loves, loves, loves natto. It is now our favorite go-to lunch!)

D) Try it, just one little bite, because you’re vegetarian and your mom says it has a lot of protein. Turns out you love natto.

That’s me. It turns out that natto only stinks from a distance. When you eat it all dressed up (with the fixins’), it is pretty tasty and it doesn’t really smell anymore. Immediately, I found myself asking why I never tried this before!

What is natto, exactly?

Natto is a traditional Japanese food that is often eaten with rice for breakfast. Many of you might be wondering why anyone would want to eat such pungent faire for breakfast but protein is excellent brain food and a great way to start the day! I’ve never eaten it for breakfast, however, I’m more an oatmeal, cereal or yogurt-kinda gal.

According to my Google research, natto is thought to have originated during Japan’s feudal times (1185-1868). Others believe natto originated in China during the Zhou Dynasty (1134 – 246 BC), while others believe natto was discovered independently at different times throughout history.

There is also the Japanese story of Hachimantaro, a Japanese samurai of the Minamoto clan, otherwise known as Minamoto no Yoshie who is thought to have discovered natto. According to legend, Hachimantaro was in battle during 1086 – 1088 in northeastern Japan when his clan was attacked while boiling soybeans for their horses. They hurriedly packed their beans in straw bags but did not open them for a few days after battle. When they discovered the beans, they were fermented but the soldiers ate it anyway. (I’m a little confused at this point in the story because I thought the beans were for their horses but I assume they had a food shortage because they forgot about the horses and ate rotten soybeans.) Apparently, the soldiers liked the taste, thought it was good despite the smell, and offered some to Hachimantaro who also thought it was good.

Interestingly, after further research, it turns out that natto can be made in the oven, packed in between straw. (I read this on It is first soaked, then steamed, then baked, packed in straw, in the oven. It is then stored in the fridge.

I’ve never considered making natto myself although my Mom has friends who make natto at home. I simply buy it at the local Japanese market. There are a number of different varieties – big soybeans, small soybeans, chopped soybeans. They also come in different flavor sauces – shiso flavored sauce (perilla leaf), dashi shoyu (soy sauce) flavored, with karashi (hot mustard), or plain. I typically buy the small soybeans or the chopped soybeans with a simple dashi shoyu tare (sauce). Then I add all the fixings.

If I have shirasu on hand (sometimes I will store it in the freezer), I will also add this to natto. Shirasu are baby anchovies that are very tender and rich in calcium. To say that Bebe Dada doesn’t care for shirasu is an understatement. He thinks they look like baby worms and is quite disgusted by them. Hahaha. I grew-up eating shirasu and quite enjoy it. In fact, it’s one of those foods from my childhood that I miss if I don’t see it for a while.

I was talking to my buddy M-kun about natto because his family eats quite a bit of it and he mentioned that I should try it with somen. It was so good! Serve somen with tsuyu (sauce) as it is traditionally eaten. (Click here for somen post.) Just add your natto-my-way on top of the somen and enjoy. (See photo at the top of the post for natto somen.)
To me, that looks like a GOOD bowl of delicious natto. How about you? Yummy or disgusting?

Will you be brave enough to give natto a try? Those who try it will either love it or hate it, but you won’t know until you take that first bite!

Cheers from natto-loving-bebe-mama, and bebe!


Natto (Fermented Soybeans)
Recipe type: Main Dish
  • 1 to 2 packages of store bought small or chopped natto
  • Chopped green onions
  • Katsuo bushi (dried bonito flakes)
  • Karashi (hot mustard)
  • Shoyu (soy sauce)
  • Tare (sauce that comes with the natto), optional
  • Kizami nori (chopped black seaweed)
  • Shirasu (baby anchovies)
  • Raw egg
  1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl.
  2. Serve over rice for a traditional protein-rich Japanese meal or serve with Japanese somen (wheat) noodles.
  3. To make somen noodles, follow package directions (noodles are quickly boiled and chilled).


  1. avatar

    I eat something similar to this. It is called Tempeh.

    It is fermented soybeans as well – but the texture looks firmer and drier in the end result.

    I’d be interested in trying this.

    • avatar

      Thanks for stopping by and for leaving me a comment. I think I’ve tried Tempeh before but I didn’t know what it was. I thought I was eating fermented tofu. :)

  2. avatar


    Aaahhh…..natto! I love it! Especially with a bowl of rice. A bowl of natto with rice is quite yummy in the morning! Natto with somen is yummy, too! Noodles become very slippery and easier to slurp! LOL Should also add yama imo (tororo) and natto and it will become REALLY slippery!! YUMMY!! Like you said, I believe natto is an acquired taste. My little one was like your little one and would try everything for the first time. She LOVES natto! :) So, Japanese!!

    Congrats to Baby E!! Gambatta ne, bebemama!!

    • avatar

      Aloha, friend!

      Thanks! Isn’t natto the BEST? :) I’m hoping Bebe will grow to love natto. This would keep her from making snide comments later in life about how it smells etc. when I eat it. If she loved it too she wouldn’t complain. LOL.

  3. avatar

    yuk! it looks pretty tho! and my kids love it because bachan gives it to them. ;) see you soon! congrats on bebe E’s achievement…it just gets better as they get older!

    • avatar

      Thanks! Good for Bachan, and your kids! LOL. They will be very smart, according to Auntie Sumiko who claims that natto is brain food. :) See ya Sunday! :)

  4. avatar

    I love your list especially (A), ha ha :) It looks extremely good though! And congrats to Bebe E !!!

    • avatar

      Thanks! Let me know if you ever do try it – lol. :)

  5. avatar

    Wow, you make it look so delicious! I could never gain a liking for it though I’ve tried several times before. My mom loves it which is weird because her family was from the Kansai (western) region. When I was in Japan people told me that people in the Eastern region like it, while those in the Western region tend to not like it.

    Congratulations to Bebe E! Swimming is so important, and it’s good when they learn at a young age not to be afraid of the water! :)

    • avatar

      Thanks, Melissa! I have a lot of friends who live in Tokyo that like natto, and especially for breakfast, but it probably depends on your personal preference. It’s definitely something you either love or hate. LOL. Hope you’re having a great summer!

  6. avatar

    Judy – Congrats! I think it’s perfectly natural to brag about your child’s accomplishments. How can you not. I still do, and my first born is 25. BTW – This natto sounds like something I would really love. You know Koreans love their fermented soy beans. Great post!

    • avatar

      Thanks, Hyosun! I’m glad we have something else in common… an appreciation for fermented bean. LOL. Have a great weekend!

  7. avatar

    Hi – can you possibly provide the Japanese characters indicating “chopped” natto? My local supermarket has many varieties in the small styrofoam 3-packs, but I I can’t read the often-stylized characters and never know when I’m going to get the chopped style that I prefer.

    I tried google-translate and came up with みじん切り納豆 for ‘chopped’, but I’m not sure that’s what the package labels use. Mahalo!

    • avatar

      Hi Dan, If you’re looking for chopped natto, look for “hikiwari” natto. ひきわり。It should be written in Japanese hiragana. Your best bet might be to simply ask a staffer at the Japanese or asian grocery store for help finding chopped natto. :) – – – Judy