Let Us Now Praise Stinky Foods: Japanese Natto Beans

Not to be confused with annatto, a red coloring central to several Spanish-speaking Caribbean cuisines, natto are black soybeans (a smaller variety than familiar green soybeans) that are fermented using the bacterium Bacillus subtilis. These beans originated in China, but have become much more popular in Japan and Korea.

The results of fermentation include generation of an odor that has variously been likened to garbage or dirty socks, and the formation of a mucus-like material that adheres to the beans and causes them to pull away in long tendrils.

In Japan, these beans are often eaten for breakfast, sometimes mixed with egg whites to make a particularly rich and slimy repast. Another common usage involves depositing the natto in nori rolls.

Natto is made in many small factories around Japan. The fermenting beans are usually wrapped in straw, as shown in the above picture.

Next: a complete meal of natto, and how to make your own using a yogurt maker.

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