Japanese Natto / Nattou – Fermented Soybeans

After watching a video from one of my favorite youtubers ‘Ciaela‘ on nattō, I got so curious that a few months ago I decided to look for nattō. Now, mind you that nattō is not a known food at all in Malaysia, and before watching the video, I have never heard of nattō or seen it anywhere in KL but I decided to go look for it anyway. Strange that even studying at a Japanese school before, and studying Japanese for a couple of years before that, no one had ever mentioned nattō to me.

What is Nattō?

Nattō is a very popular Japanese food, typically eaten for breakfast and mostly for health reason. It is made from fermented soybeans with some bacterias in it which leaves it looking ooey gooey. There are a lot of claims, some unverified, that for health benefits nattō can help prevent sickness and improve your health. It can also help you lose weight!

So when I went to KL last December, I decided to go to 1Utama to search for it since that place is one of the popular place for Japanese related foods and items. I didn’t think I’d find it but when I went there, I was surprised to see how much 1Utama has changed – the food section and the market has been completely revamped/renovated and there are a lot more stuff now and yes, very Japanese oriented. True enough, when I was looking for this, I FOUND IT! Whoa. That was totally unexpected.

Japanese Natto/Nattou - Fermented Soy Beans

It was in the frozen section in the 1Utama market. There were a lot of nattō! I was very happy but my happiness did not last long when I picked one box up and read the ingredients.

Note to Muslims – If you’re interested in trying nattō, BE CAREFUL OF THE INGREDIENTS. That is because those packs that you see in the photo above contains ALCOHOL in all of them. How disappointing! Can’t the darn Japanese make their food WITHOUT alcohol?! With Japanese food, pork and alcohol are almost ALWAYS part of the ingredients. So for Muslims who can’t read Japanese, and the box has no translated ingredients, you’re screwed so better stay away from them.

Also, DO NOT believe the translated ingredients. When I checked at both AEON Kinta City Ipoh & AEON Station 18 Ipoh, they only listed the ingredient as ‘soybean’, but they did not list all the ingredients in it including ALCOHOL. So, please be careful if you don’t know how to read Japanese. Many foods will NOT list alcohol by the importer. Please blame the importer who is lazy to translate every single ingredient.

Please look for this kana in the ingredient: アルコール

Anyway. There’s actually hope. Rummaging in the freezer, scanning every boxes, I found this –

Japanese Natto/Nattou - Fermented Soy Beans

It’s the same pack as the one above but without the funky fat man face on it but instead there’s a little girl. The box read ‘furusato nattou’. When I picked it up, I had to smile. It’s a pack of nattō WITHOUT the alcohol! Awesome! It’s just a plain box of nattō and from the picture of the little girl, I assume that it’s made for kids. I get it now. So for the boxes above with a funky face of a fat man, that’s the ‘adult’ version of nattō which contains some added ingredients and alcohol but the kids one is just plain ol’ nattō.

I had to buy it. Unfortunately, it was THE ONLY box of nattō with an image of little girl on it. It was the last one.  I forgot how much it cost but it was like than RM5 at that time. So later that night, I decided to eat it. I had some leftover chicken rice from my mom, and I heard it’s best to eat nattō with rice so yeah, I decided to try and put two and two together.

Japanese Natto/Nattou - Fermented Soy Beans

The pack contains 3 mini boxes of nattō. When you first open the box, phew. The stench of nattō will fill up your room. It smelled like feet, ammonia, pungent cheese and strong bad coffee all mixed together. It was a weird smell, and very strong. From reviews on youtube, almost all of them described the nattō to have a smell of feet but for mine, it had strong bad coffee smell. It comes with a pack of soy sauce and mustard.

Japanese Natto/Nattou - Fermented Soy Beans

The texture of the nattō is like snot when you have a flu. Yes, like your own yucky green mucus that you blow from your nose or hack out of your throat when you’re sick. It’s very sticky, gooey but it’s actually a cool thing. I had fun mixing it around then stretching it up. If you want to see what I mean, I’ll post a video from Ciaela at the end of this post.

Japanese Natto/Nattou - Fermented Soy Beans

Alright, the taste. It’s actually not that bad, surprisingly. I was sort of terrified to eat it, because many described the yucky taste and would throw up after a spoonful of nattō but I didn’t find it that disgusting. Maybe because mine is meant for kids, so it’s like a mild version? I bet it’s different with the adult version. I didn’t throw up or anything. It had like a strong bitter taste, slightly salty but with a hint of nutty-ness and of course beans. Unfortunately, with my Malaysian palate, my tolerance for the pungent-cheese smell and taste didn’t last long. I had to surrender after about 5 bites or so. Eating it with my chicken rice did not do any good. The bitter taste was getting stronger with each bite and chew and it overpowered the strong yummy taste of my spiced chicken  (I ought to do a review on that). It did leave a bad aftertaste in my mouth.

Since I was staying at a hotel at that time, boy, did it fill up the whole room with a bad nattō smell for the rest of the night.

But yes, I survived nattō. However I feel the urge to give it another try again, if only I could find the mild kids version. Surprisingly, I found nattō in Ipoh a few weeks ago at the new Aeon Station 18 but it was the fat man adult version that contains alcohol. Oh well.

Before I end this entry, here’s the video from Ciaela that I watched that introduced me to natto.

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Tany @ Sinfully Delicious

Tany has been blogging since 2001 and is currently a full-time blogger/writer and aspires to be a published author. Based in Ipoh, she shares her passion & love for delicious foods as well as events & happenings around Ipoh. A bubble tea & social media addict, Tany spends her free time on Youtube & Netflix. Email sinfullydelicious.net@gmail.com for collaboration/event invitation.

16 Responses

  1. Hamsap says:

    I found natto in 1U at the frozen food corner thanks to your accurate info. Pls keep it up

  2. QuintusKing says:

    You mentioned in your article already natto is made from fermented soybeans. If you weren’t aware, “fermentation is the process of changing a carbohydrate to an alcohol or acid”. So it’s not that they can’t make natto without alcohol, but that alcohol is part of the result of fermentation, not part of their ingredients. It doesn’t have anything to do with pork and alcohol being popular ingredients of Japanese food.

    • Hi there QuintusKing,
      So are other fermented product like yogurt, cheese, tempeh, kimchi, pickles, vinegar etc. Since I can’t find any info on Natto, I did some research and the closest example I can give is vinegar. Here’s what I found:

      All vinegars are halal even those made from wine. The principle is this one: through chemical change a halal ingredient can become haram (eg. grape juice turned into wine) and vice-versa (eg. wine turned into vinegar).” (There are conflicting opinions on this though)

      In this case, fermented soybean is made by adding bacteria that allows it to naturally do its fermentation work, like yogurt or tempeh. If alcohol is listed, it means it’s added ingredient, not as the result of fermentation, hence my comment about natto & alcohol. Also, if the raw ingredient mentions ‘wheat’, then it’s used during fermentation and definitely not halal, like the brewed soy sauce. Since I bought this long ago, I can’t remember the ingredients anymore 🙁

      From my understanding, if it’s naturally fermented and not intoxicating, then it’s not considered haram.

      Extra info: http://www.irfi.org/articles3/articles_4801_4900/what%20is%20the%20permissible%20rate%20of%20alcoholhtml.htm

      Nattō is made from soybeans, typically nattō soybeans. Smaller beans are preferred, as the fermentation process will be able to reach the center of the bean more easily. The beans are washed and soaked in water for 12 to 20 hours to increase their size. Next, the soybeans are steamed for 6 hours, although a pressure cooker may be used to reduce the time. The beans are mixed with the bacterium Bacillus subtilis, known as nattō-kin in Japanese. From this point on, care must to be taken to keep the ingredients away from impurities and other bacteria. The mixture is fermented at 40 °C (104 °F) for up to 24 hours. Afterward the nattō is cooled, then aged in a refrigerator for up to one week to allow the development of stringiness.

      While that’s the natural way of making natto, I can’t speak for the company of the product above and how they produced it. Since there’s nobody to clarify this about natto, and I can’t remember the exact ingredients, then I can’t say anything in that area. For me, I’ll treat it like vinegar until clarified not halal. If I find this again, I’ll update this post. Thank you for pointing out this part, it has never crossed my mind before.

      • QuintusKing says:

        Thanks for clarifying! But I guess it’s safer for Muslims to consume it only if it has a halal certification. I’ve searched around the internet but found too little information as to whether natto is halal. Not a Muslim myself, but I’m kinda concerned.

        • Thanks for your concern! 🙂 You’re right, it’s safer to consume it only if it has halal cert. Most Muslims won’t touch food without a halal cert, that’s why I mentioned if in doubt, better avoid it at all cost. Since it’s a Japanese product, it’s almost impossible to find out, let alone have the halal certification. If I remember correctly, the product above only mentioned pure soybean, with no other added raw ingredients during fermentation, that’s why I was ok with it (although come to think about it, should have checked the soy sauce & mustard that came with it). I’m glad you voiced out your concern otherwise, I wouldn’t have known (or find out that brewed soy sauce is not halal lol).

  3. Yus says:

    Saya pon peminT natto and gambar budak kecik tu memang susah nak jumpa. Ada pon gambar mamat gemok tu and beberapa brand lain. So normally saya akan amik yg bekas warna putih. But other website stated that gambar orang genok tu Halal cuma mustard n sos di dalam dia yg kalau boleh jangan ambil. Here’s the link : https://ms-my.facebook.com/muslim.kanko/posts/1564894247091064

    • Thanks! Info yang sgt berguna 😀 Beberapa minggu lepas saya try Natto balik, dan brand yang lain (tak ditulis alkohol). Lupa pulak brand apa tp check balik blog ni nanti untuk review natto yang baru ek 🙂 Tapi yg baru ni mmg sgt kena dgn selera… sedap giler hehe

      • Tatoba says:

        Saya pun refer website tu at first sebelum makan natto. Bila dah beli, saya cuba tengok website lain yang pasal natto and then terkejut pula yang natto ada gambar lelaki gemuk ni tak boleh dimakan. Terus buang macam tu sahaja. Dan saya makan natto brand itu tapi hikiwari punya version. Mungkin sama.

  4. Nina says:

    Bummer. I’ve always wanted to try nattou. Hm. Thanks for this post! It was very helpful !

  5. ronnie says:

    In the English version of the holy Quran that I have and others it says that regarding gambling and alcohol, in it there is some good, but mostly, they are bad for you. If only you knew.

  6. Nadhir says:

    Hi,

    From what I researched on the internet, the ingredient translated was fermented soybean. As you already know fermentation is the process of converting carbohydrates into alcohol. The product above is not permissible to eat.

    And for wine vinegars, they are also not allowed to be used in cooking as they are made from alcohol. Red wine, white wine and balsamic vinegars are not halal. if it’s made from alcohol, how does it become halal?

    Please don’t research blindly as there are non-muslims who claims to be muslims. And are doing fake websites to mislead muslims into thinking they can drink wine.

    • Hi Nadhir, thanks for your input.
      From my understanding, yes, natto is fermented soybean. But as mentioned in my comment above, so are tofu, tempeh, kimchi, soy sauce, etc. (source:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fermentation_in_food_processing)

      FYI, there is halal natto available in Japan – http://www.miyakonattou.com/products/detail.php?product_id=103

      As for the wine vinegar, my comment was based on the words of Muslim scholars, not “non-muslims who claim to be Muslims”. I didn’t research blindly. It’s best for you to fully research as well.

      ————-
      A contemporary scholar today, Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qardawi, who is considered to be an authority in the Middle East has allowed the use of wine vinegar in his book: ‘The Lawful and Prohibited in Islam’.

      Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qardawi futher states that in the books of Maliki Fiqh is stated that it is permissible to treat wine so that it becomes vinegar.

      Sheikh-ul-Islam Dr. Tahir-ul-Qadri, an authority on Islamic Fiqh, also holds the opinion that the use of wine vinegar if permissible.

      While contributing to an article on Istihala: Change of State, Sheikh Dr. Jaafar Al-Quaderi gave an example where he said “Wine is Haram as long as it remains wine. However, if the same wine is turned into vinegar, it becomes halal. Hence the use of vinegar derived from wine is halal.”

      Source:
      http://halalcertification.ie/islamic-ruling-on-wine-vinegar/
      http://darulfiqh.com/are-white-wine-vinegar-and-red-wine-vinegar-halal/
      http://www.islamawareness.net/Alcohol/fatwa_vinegar001.html
      ————–

      According to this video, only the NATURAL process of wine turning into vinegar is permissible, not man-made. Which means the wine that turns by itself, without going through the process of manufacturing, is permissible.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0bu6Bk1zM84

      You mentioned red wine, white wine in cooking. Wine is still alcohol therefore not allowed to be used in cooking. Wine naturally turned into vinegar, that’s debatable. That’s my understanding.

      Thanks.

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