Sunday, October 07, 2007

We're Natto Gonna Take It

My history with the sketchy-yet-iresistable fermented soybean product known as natto:

My first exposure to this wonderbean product was when I was in Japan the first time. A fellow missionary thought it would be funny to feed me a pack of natto since he had some sitting around in the fridge and he knew that natto is considered pretty much universally to be the most controversial food in Japan, the food some Japanese people can't stand, and that pretty much all foreigners are weirded out by. He pulled out the pack, mixed it up for me, and handed it over. Although it looked weird, I tried it. At first I thought it tasted a lot like Vegemite. To his surprise, I was actually not really grossed out and finished the whole package. It turns out he too was a natto fan, and claimed that he was trying to turn me on to it, adding that "old dudes here in Japan eat that stuff every day and live to be over 100" -a statement which actually has some amount of validity, it turns out.

Let me explain where all this sudden natto-mania comes from. It comes as only a slight coincidence that I bought a bunch of natto at the local Asian market yesterday, since two days ago it was announced that they have discovered what the function of the appendix is, and that it is used to store gut bacteria and re-introduce it in into the digestive tract if it should wiped out by a disease like dysentery. Isn't that great? All my life I have been hearing about how they don't know what the purpose of the appendix is, that it's just some evolutionary leftover from when we were eating bark and twigs, and now people actually know what it did/still does. Sweet. Although I'm not sure if it's clear that the stuff in natto promotes healthy digestion (coincidentally, the commercial for the Activia 2-Week Challenge just came on, and that stuff claims to be "clinically proven," so I guess it's not b.s.), it's no secret that the word "probiotic" has been getting a lot of buzz lately, and studies have shown that natto has beneficial probiotic effects. Regardless of whether of not all this probiotics hype is scientifically true or not, anything that tastes this weird and looks this gnarly and doesn't kill you must be good for you, right?

So as I was roaming the aisles of the mostly-Korean Saraga Asian market yesterday, I was kind of surprised to see about 15 different varieties of Japanese natto in the freezer section. Although they didn't have any brands I was familiar with, natto generally has classy packaging, so I decided to pick up a few, with the goal of someday testing each kind of natto that they sell there in hopes of finding the best kind.

What can I say? This stuff is weird, but you know what, it is really good. I had forgotten how much I liked eating natto, but after one bite I was immediately transported back to Tenri, Japan two summers ago, and the many delicious natto breakfasts that I enjoyed at Sukiya for the low price of 270 yen (about $2.50). Every time I ate this meal, I remember thinking to myself "this might very well be the most delicious and nutritious breakfast on the planet." I've been reading up on how to make your own natto at home, but I think that might be taking things a little bit too far. I've been making my own kimchi lately ever since Sue Anne loaned me a book about it, and that has been kind of fun, but I think I'll take it easy and just keep buying different kinds of natto from Saraga until I find one that I really like. It's only about $2 for three packs, so I guess it's not really that important that I make it myself. (With the kimchi thing, it started innocently, I promise. I knew that I had some cabbage that I needed to get rid of, and so I thought I would borrow the book and turn an already-wilting half head of cabbage into something edible, but before I knew it, I was headed to the store to buy a new head of a specific kind of cabbage and a bunch of other stuff as well. Oh well, as I have said here before, a possible title for my autobiography might be "The Curse of Being Interested in Too Many Things.")

Like a lot of weird foods, natto came about by accident. Soybeans used to be stored in straw bags, and straw naturally contains the bacteria that turns soybeans into natto, so it was just a matter of time before they had some natto on their hands. I guess they just decided to go ahead and eat it, and the rest is history. I love that story.

P.S. I'm going to just go ahead and say it: I predict that bacteria is going to be like a huge deal in 2008. Bacteria will be the new TiVo, or something.


Kino said...


rachel said...


sarah k. said...

Mike, this comment isn't about your post, which I finally read today because my dumb subscription is for your myspace blog, so I didn't even know you were updating... anyway, I went through your bloglines list and noted that you have exponentII and zelophehad's daughters. I'm so curious. How long have you been reading feminist mormon weblit? Are you a feminist mormon? You better be.