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In the midst of the current COVID-19 pandemic, much-appreciated Japanese food has become even more popular. The natto It is a sticky, stringy (and even smelly according to some) fermented food, made with soy and believed to boost the immune system. Like toilet paper, hand sanitizer and clinical face masks have disappeared from supermarket shelves in Japan during March and April. But luckily, everyone can do natto at home.
The natto, sometimes compared to cheese, is a traditional Japanese dish made from fermented soybeans with a cultivation of bacillus subtilis, or nattokin. The natto It is highly appreciated for its rich flavor umami, and is a popular, cheap and everyday food in many parts of Japan. It is consumed on rice or toast, in sushi rolls, with spaghetti, alone, mixed with mustard karashi and citrus sauce ponzu.
In mid-March, Nexer, a market research company in Japan, concluded that about 40% of Japanese respondents incorporated special foods into their diets to “stimulate their immune systems” (免疫力 を 高 め る). Although garlic and ginger were popular foods in the survey, fermented foods like yogurt and natto They topped the list.
Likewise, in March the rumor spread that the natto COVID-19 prevented. This rumor arose mainly because, in prefectures traditionally associated with nattoLike Ibaraki and Iwate, the COVID-19 contagion rate was relatively low. When the buyers started to accumulate natto, the Japan Consumer Affairs Agency published a bulletin denying the idea that this food could protect against COVID-19.
At the end of April the natto it was still scarce in Japan, and food began to be identified in the media as one of a variety of healer's “remedies” against COVID-19, which also included “wood creosote” (正 露 丸, seirogan), black tea, garlic and cocaine.
They link to natto to the increased longevity in Japan
However, although the natto It definitely doesn't help protect against COVID-19, the fermented “superfood” that may be connected to increasing longevity, according to two recent studies in Japan. In one study, which tracked the eating habits and health outcomes of nearly 29,000 people in the city of Takayama between 1992 and 2008, participants who consumed a pack of natto at least once a week they had a 25% lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease than those who claimed to take it rarely.
The other study, conducted on more than 90,000 middle-aged and elderly people for more than 15 years, and led by the Japan National Cancer Center, found that consuming fermented soy foods, especially the natto, was correlated — if not directly associated — with a lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Although the connection between the consumption of the natto and increased longevity, nattokinase, an enzyme found in the sticky strands of nattoIt dissolves in blood clots and, in turn, potentially helps mitigate heart disease.
“Fermentation brings intoxication, joy and freedom”
Despite its irresistible umami flavor or reputation as a superfood, the distinctive nutty aroma and sticky texture of natto it discourages some people. In general, the natto It is more popular in Tokyo and other parts of eastern Japan compared to the rest of the country.
“I was not enthusiastic about the natto at the beginning ”, affirms the journalist, author and photographer John Ashburne, in an interview with Global Voices. “I started to appreciate it when Sasha (Ashburne's chef and wife) made it with a raw quail egg and sliced spring onion, both ingredients served to somehow reduce the bad smell.”
Ashburne has lived in Kyoto for many years and, as he describes himself as a mushroom grower and finder, he is also a well-known Japanese food writer who has published a Lonely Planet tourist guide on the subject.
Ashburne also makes his own natto at home.
“Fermentation brings intoxication, joy and freedom. You can escape the tyranny of the food industry by making your own nattoAshburne says. “It gives the feeling of creating something special, individual and almost impossible to replicate exactly twice. Even if I wanted to, I don't think my natto it could always come out the same ”.
Ashburne says that he likes to vary the grains he uses, and also his process: sometimes he steams the grains, others he boils them, and sometimes he prepares them over low heat with konbu, often without this.
“It is as if microorganisms have a mischievous quality, with their own microscopic minds. Non-industrial fermentation impresses me more as an alchemy than as a kitchen, ”says Ashburne.
How to do natto at home
Outside of Japan, in other countries where the nattoIt can be difficult to find it in supermarkets. However, with the right ingredients and cooking equipment, it can be done natto at home.
Using a low temperature method, the natto It can be prepared in the oven with sterilized glass jars or even plastic containers. The easiest procedure to do natto It is with Instant Pot or a pressure cooker. A key challenge will be finding spores that initiate natto, containing the nattokin necessary for fermentation. One way to shorten the process is with a package of natto as a starting point for a larger batch.