What Does Natto Actually Taste Like?

Hey there, fellow foodies and adventurous eaters! If you’ve ever been on a culinary journey, you know that sometimes the most intriguing dishes come in unexpected packages. Today, we’re taking a deep dive into the world of natto, the mysterious and beloved Japanese delicacy.

You might have heard about it, seen it in photos, or even plucked up the courage to try it yourself. But what does natto actually taste like? Buckle up because we’re about to uncover the secrets of this sticky, savory, and slightly strange dish.

The Initial Sensory Experience

Is Natto Tasty

The first encounter with natto can be quite striking. It has a distinctive, pungent aroma that is often described as earthy, somewhat akin to a strong cheese. This smell is a direct result of the fermentation process and is a good indicator of the complex flavors that follow. The appearance of natto is also notable, with its small beans coated in a sticky, stringy slime that can be off-putting for first-timers.

Here are some popular Natto dishes to try:

Dish Name Description
Natto Rice A classic and simple dish where natto is mixed with steamed rice and often seasoned with soy sauce, green onions, and sometimes raw egg.
Natto Sushi Natto can be used as a sushi topping, providing a unique and savory addition to traditional sushi rolls or nigiri.
Natto Toast Spread natto on toast for a quick and nutritious breakfast or snack. You can add toppings like avocado, cheese, or vegetables for extra flavor.
Natto Salad Incorporate natto into a salad with fresh greens, tomatoes, and your favorite salad dressing for a healthy and flavorful option.
Natto Omelette Add natto to your morning omelette for a protein-packed and umami-rich breakfast. You can include vegetables and cheese for added taste.
Natto Stir-Fry Use natto as an ingredient in a stir-fry with vegetables, tofu, and your choice of sauce for a delicious and hearty meal.
Natto Pasta Mix natto into cooked pasta, along with garlic, olive oil, and parmesan cheese for a fusion of Japanese and Italian flavors.
Natto Miso Soup Enhance your miso soup by stirring in natto. The fermented beans add a unique twist to this traditional Japanese soup.
Natto Kimchi Combine natto with Korean kimchi for a spicy and tangy dish that’s a fusion of Japanese and Korean flavors.
Natto Pizza Experiment with natto as a pizza topping. Pair it with ingredients like bacon, mushrooms, and cheese for a savory pizza experience.

The Taste Profile

Natto’s flavor is as complex as its aroma. It has a strong, savory taste, often described as nutty and slightly yeasty. There’s a certain umami quality to natto, a depth of flavor that can be attributed to the fermentation process. This umami aspect makes it pair well with other strong flavors like soy sauce and mustard.

Natto also has a subtle bitterness, which varies depending on the fermentation duration and the type of soybeans used. This bitterness is not overwhelming but adds to the complexity of the dish. There’s also a hint of sweetness, which provides a balance to the overall taste profile.

Texture: An Integral Part of the Experience

Why Natto is so sticky

The texture of natto is as important as its taste. The slimy, gooey consistency is a result of the polysaccharides produced during fermentation. When stirred, natto develops more stickiness, creating long, cheese-like strands that are a hallmark of the dish. The beans themselves are tender and can be easily mashed with a slight pressure. This unique texture plays a significant role in the overall sensory experience of eating natto.

The Aftertaste and Mouthfeel

After consuming natto, the flavors linger in the mouth, providing a long, savory aftertaste. This aftertaste is often described as earthy and can stay for a while, a characteristic appreciated by natto enthusiasts. The mouthfeel of natto is unique; the stickiness can coat the mouth, emphasizing the lingering flavors.

Polysaccharides and Stickiness:

What is the texture of natto

The slimy and gooey texture of natto is a distinctive characteristic that often surprises first-time tasters. This texture is primarily attributed to the presence of polysaccharides, which are complex carbohydrates formed during the fermentation process. These polysaccharides create a viscous and sticky matrix that surrounds the soybeans.

When you first open a pack of natto, you’ll notice a thin, translucent layer of slime covering the beans. This layer can be quite stretchy, and it’s one of the defining features of natto’s texture. When you begin to stir natto vigorously, these polysaccharides become more pronounced, leading to the formation of long, cheese-like strands. This unique property is often referred to as “neba-neba,” a Japanese term that describes the slimy and sticky texture.

Tenderness of Soybeans:

While the exterior of natto is characterized by its sliminess, the soybeans themselves offer a contrasting texture. They are tender and soft, with a creamy consistency that can be easily mashed with a slight pressure from your utensil or even your tongue. This combination of slimy coating and soft interior creates a textural interplay that some find intriguing and others find challenging.

Sensory Contrast:

Why Natto Has Weird Taste

The contrasting textures of natto play a crucial role in the overall sensory experience. As you take a bite, you’ll first encounter the slightly chewy and sticky outer layer, which gives way to the creamy and tender soybeans inside. This contrast is not only tactile but also contributes to the overall flavor perception. The sticky coating serves as a vehicle for the flavors, allowing them to linger in your mouth and enhancing the taste experience.


Can cooking or heating natto change its flavor?

Yes, heating natto can alter its flavor and texture. Cooking natto typically diminishes its pungent aroma and reduces the stickiness of the strands. The taste becomes milder and less bitter, making it more palatable for those who find its raw taste too intense. However, it’s important to note that heating may also reduce some of the health benefits associated with the live cultures present in natto.

Are there different varieties of natto, and do they taste different?

Indeed, there are several varieties of natto, each with subtle differences in flavor and texture. The most common variation is based on the size of the soybeans. Smaller beans tend to be milder and less bitter, while larger beans have a stronger, more pronounced flavor. Additionally, some specialty nattos are made with black or red soybeans, offering a slightly different taste profile, often nuttier and less pungent than the traditional natto made with yellow soybeans.

Does the fermentation time of natto affect its taste?

Absolutely. The length of the fermentation process plays a critical role in determining the flavor of natto. Shorter fermentation times result in a milder taste and less pronounced smell. In contrast, longer fermentation can intensify the pungency, bitterness, and umami flavors, making it more appealing to seasoned natto eaters but potentially overwhelming for newcomers.

How does one’s diet influence the perception of natto’s taste?

A person’s regular diet can significantly impact how they perceive the taste of natto. Individuals accustomed to fermented foods or dishes with strong flavors might find natto more palatable. In contrast, those with a diet consisting mainly of mild flavors may find natto’s taste more challenging to appreciate initially.

Is there a way to reduce the bitterness of natto for first-time tasters?

For those trying natto for the first time and finding it too bitter, there are a few tricks to mitigate this. Adding condiments like honey, soy sauce, or a small amount of sugar can balance the bitterness. Mixing natto with other ingredients, such as rice or incorporating it into a recipe like an omelet or a stir-fry, can also make the flavor more approachable.

Can natto be paired with other foods or beverages to enhance its flavor?

Natto can be paired with various foods and beverages to enhance its flavor. Traditional Japanese pairings include steamed rice, raw egg, and green onions. For beverages, a cup of green tea complements natto well. In a more western context, pairing natto with avocado or incorporating it into a salad can create an interesting fusion, making the taste more accessible to those unfamiliar with this unique Japanese delicacy.

The taste of natto can vary based on several factors. The type of soybean used, the fermentation duration, and even the region where it’s produced can influence the flavor. Additionally, natto can be seasoned with various condiments like soy sauce, mustard, or wasabi, which can significantly alter its taste.

Final Words

In conclusion, natto is an enigmatic dish with a complex, robust flavor profile. Its taste is a combination of savory, nutty, and slightly sweet and bitter notes, complemented by a unique sticky texture. While natto might not be for everyone, its depth of flavor and health benefits make it a fascinating subject in the culinary world and a must-try for those adventurous in taste.