Fermented foods are having a moment right now, for good reason. Not only do they offer a delicious and unique flavor, but they're also incredibly healthy. Aside from the trendy eats like kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, yogurt, miso, etc., there's one food in this group that's much less well-known and a little trickier to eat. It's time for more people to experience the wonders of natto.

What is Natto?

Natto is Japanese fermented soybeans. It has a ton of health benefits, but its other characteristics can, unfortunately, be a little off-putting to those unfamiliar with it. The texture is slimy, sticky, stringy, and gooey. Natto's smell has been compared to smelly socks and stinky cheese. It tastes earthy, musty, yeasty, a tad bitter, and packs the familiar punch of its fermented brethren. For most people, natto is an aggressively acquired taste. Sound intimidating? Don't worry, it's beloved in all sorts of Asian cuisines.

You can find natto in the refrigerated section of most Japanese and some Asian grocers. Natto usually comes in a set of three styrofoam boxes priced between $1-3. Natto does expire, so beware of the expiration dates on the packaging. Once you've bought however many sets you desire, you can start figuring out how to eat natto.

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How to Prepare Natto

Upon opening one of the three styrofoam boxes, you'll find roughly a third cup's worth of sticky soybeans under a small square of plastic and two packets of sauce. One is tare, or sweetened soy sauce, and the other is karashi, or spicy Japanese mustard. Set the two aside for now.

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The first thing you need to do is peel off and dispose of the plastic square covering the natto. Some natto-slime strings will probably stick to the plastic here, so be careful and stand close to a garbage can. Apparently, there are a lot of different ways to do this to try and avoid a mess, but it's really not that difficult. I find spinning the plastic to consolidate the strings to be somewhat helpful.

Next, take a pair of chopsticks and stir the natto in one direction a lot (but try not to spill). The general rule of thumb is to stir clockwise 50 times. The natto slime will become whiter, thicker, and almost frothy. 

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Now, take the two sauce packets you set aside earlier and add them to the natto. You can also omit the included sauces and/or add others you like or are more comfortable with, like soy sauce or sriracha. After adding the sauces, stir in the other direction 50 or so times.

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Your natto is now fully prepared! Feel free to eat it as is or warmed shortly in the microwave. But it doesn't have to be that plain (natto-n my watch). Here are a couple other (potentially more palatable) ways to eat natto.

Natto Rice Bowl

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Eating natto with rice is a common, healthy, and simple Japanese breakfast dish. At its base, it’s just a cup or so of cooked and warmed white rice with one pack of mixed natto over top. There are plenty of other things you can add to spice it up; some standard toppings include soy sauce, sesame oil, sesame seeds, shredded nori (seaweed), and raw egg. But feel free to add almost anything, like dried bonito flakes, furikake seasoning, sriracha, chopped veggies, kimchi, etc.

#SpoonTip: if you’re not comfortable with eating raw egg, adding a poached, soft-boiled, or over easy egg is a great starting point. Just try to keep the egg as soft as possible.

Natto Toast

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While other toasts might be overrated, natto toast is completely underrated because it's so tasty and easy to make. Just toast a thick slice of bread (any kind works well) and spoon one pack of mixed natto on top. As with the rice bowl, you could add different sauces and seasonings to finish it off — even cheese or honey! But even alone, the crunchy, thick, and mild-tasting toast offers the perfect contrast to the chewy and strong-flavored natto.

Natto Omelet

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Natto is already smelly on its own, but frying it in an omelet tends to amplify the aroma. There are a couple different methods to cook this omelet – add one pack of mixed natto to a hot, oiled frying pan after pouring in 1-3 beaten eggs, or beat the eggs and the natto together before putting it on the stove. Either way, once the mixture is in the pan, just cook it like a normal omelet. Again, get creative with this and add toppings either into the egg mixture or after the omelet is cooked. Some common mix-ins include green onions, soy sauce, chopped vegetables, or even cheese.

Now, congratulations! You've officially learned how to eat natto. Add it to your pasta, salad, ramen, burger, or really anything, or try these other creative and delicious ways to use natto. I'm natto-lling you what to do, but you should consider making a beeline for your nearest Japanese market and putting your newfound natto knowledge to the test. Happy eating, and good natto you all.