What Does Natto Taste Like?

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In this article, we're talking about natto. We'll describe the taste and texture, how it compares to tempeh, and some of the best ways to make it delicious for breakfast or lunch.

What Does Natto Taste Like? 

First, let's talk about what natto is: a Japanese dish of fermented soybeans. This should give you a head start on imagining what it's like.

It has a slightly funky, cheesy aroma but a vigorous earthiness and a mild vegetal, edamame type of flavor. By far, the most pronounced flavors are savory and earthy.

Natto Texture 

For newbies, the texture may take some adjustment. As the soybeans ferment, they take on a thick, slimy, slightly opaque coating that's truly particular to natto.

If you pick up a forkful (or chopstickful) of sticky natto, you'll see lots of milky threads stretching from fork to plate. This stringiness is one of natto's defining characteristics. 

Does Natto Taste like Tempeh? 

In a certain way, you could say that natto tastes like tempeh. The soybean flavor is distantly detectable in both natto and tempeh, but that's really where the similarities end.

Tempeh can be considered milder and significantly sweeter than natto even though tempeh isn't what you would call a sweet food. It's just that natto is more pungent and even bitter.

There are also completely different textures going on in these foods. Tempeh is dry, firm and tender while natto has that sticky, stringy coating.

How Is Natto Eaten? 

In Japan, natto is eaten at various times of day, including in the morning. Breakfast might look like a bowl of rice topped with natto and condiments like soy sauce and Japanese-style mustard.

Sometimes an egg is added (perhaps tofu scramble?) with a dusting of chopped green onions, and little sides like miso soup, pickled vegetables and tofu are served with it. 

With a little wasabi, mustard and soy sauce, you can eat natto by itself, hot or cold. Heat it up a touch (just a touch) on the stove or in the microwave to make it more tender and flavorful.

A word of caution. Natto sold in individual servings may come with a packet of fish stock-based sauce, so be wary of the condiments. 

How Long Will Natto Keep in the Fridge? 

Different sources will tell you different expiration dates for natto. As a fermented food, it's not as straightforward as visibly decaying fruit when it comes to deciding when to throw it out.

Natto will keep developing its flavor, so if it's been sitting in the refrigerator for a few weeks, it may taste pretty intense. Generally, it's recommended that you eat it within two to four weeks.

Freezing natto is also an option. You'll want it to thaw in the fridge and try to eat it within the next several days. Just don't thaw it in the microwave or it may lose texture and flavor.

Natto Serving Tips 

We're excited to share some recipe tips with you as natto is really delicious, especially when enhanced with the right ingredients, as you're about to see.

This video is going to show you how to eat natto in a savory salad full of marinated veggies and topped with seaweed.

Here are the ingredients:

  • Natto
  • Tamari
  • Marinated kale
  • Daikon radish
  • Sunflower sprouts
  • Cauliflower
  • Nori or any seaweed you prefer

Here's a pretty traditional way of preparing natto with rice. Serve it with any toppings you like, including tamari, spicy mustard and anything that sounds good.

Here's what you need for this rice bowl:

  • White or brown rice
  • Avocado
  • Onion
  • Lettuce
  • Natto
  • Plum juice (or plum sauce)

Wrap Up 

The Japanese fermented soybean dish known as natto is funky-smelling but tasty. It's earthy, mildly edamame-like and savory. Whether you eat it for breakfast, lunch or dinner, a little spicy mustard, soy sauce and a touch of sweetener can make it shine. Try it in a breakfast bowl with rice, tofu scramble, spinach and a dollop of gauc. 

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