THE JOY OF STICKY SOY: Organic Megumi Natto Launches in California

Dishes served included natto sushi. Photos by Nobuko Oshima.

With its signature stringiness and distinct, pungent smell, natto is a Japanese food made of soybeans that are soaked, steamed and finally, fermented. Usually only found in sushi restaurants and Asian supermarkets, the current natto market is dominated by frozen varieties.

Minami Satoh, president of Japan Traditional Foods Inc., noticing the lack of readily available fresh natto in the U.S., has arrived on the health food scene with Megumi Natto, a fresh, never-frozen, handmade natto produced locally from high-quality, USDA-grade organic soybeans.

Otherwise just a soybean, natto is defined by the fermenting process, which gives it its distinct smell, nutty savoriness and nutritional superpowers. While fermenting has been used in different cultures for centuries as a method to preserve food and enhance taste, its popularity has resurged through recent “slow food” movements, such as the Slow Food Nation event that took place in San Francisco two years ago.

Megumi Natto will be presented on May 15 at the upcoming Freestone Fermentation Festival in Sonoma County, where exhibitors will demonstrate different ways to enjoy a variety of fermented foods.

As a fermented food, “fresh natto” may seem contradictory by definition, but unlike wine or aged cheeses, natto is a fermented consumable that is best enjoyed as soon as it is ready. Freshness of ingredients and methodology in preparation are key.

From picking out smaller or inferior beans to washing the beans vigorously with water, each step is executed by hand to ensure the highest quality natto. Megumi Natto is tezukuri, or handmade.

The fact that the Sebastopol, Calif.-based Megumi Natto is never frozen ensures consumers of a high-quality product. Fresh is simply superior to frozen, as freezing can affect the bean in both taste and texture.

NATTO & NICE — Left: Makiko Yamashita of Radee Wine mixing Megumi Natto with her chopsticks during a launch party held recently at Ozumo Restaurant in San Francisco.

Satoh is adamant that the difference in taste is significant. “Frozen just doesn’t taste as good. The natto becomes watery, and the taste is not proper.”

Since most natto sold in the U.S. is sent frozen from Japan, variables such as conditions of transport and time elapsed between fresh and frozen stages can accelerate fermentation, resulting in a stronger smelling product.

While the ingredients are simple, the process is not, involving careful monitoring of temperatures and steaming the beans at high pressure. The whole process, from bean to packaging, takes two nights and three days.

Satoh recommends consumers eat Megumi Natto within a month to ensure optimal taste, although it is still consumable after two to three months. “It’s fine to eat, but smell is stronger, as it [the natto] will continue to ferment.”

Satoh urges people to adopt natto as a regular part of their diet. “It has the same amount of protein, proportionally, to red meat and has added vitamins and nutrients that make it a significantly healthier option.”

Soybeans have been lauded as a health food for years, and the fermentation process in natto only adds to soy’s benefits. Full of vitamins, enzymes, minerals and amino acids, natto promotes bone and heart health and even helps to dissolve blood clots.

While the characteristics of natto may be startling for some, like any fermented food such as cheese, sauerkraut or kimchee, those who get past the initial pungent scent and texture will be rewarded with a depth of flavor that will have you appreciating food on an entirely new level.

Megumi Natto is now available in select grocery and natural food markets throughout Northern California.

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