Natto – the Marmite of Japan


    “I’m trying to make natto with black turtle beans,” I said to Nigel.

    “Of course,” he replied offhandedly, “you’ve always been a lover of Marmite.”

    In 2016, Brexit sparked Marmite shortage, I got several panic calls from old friends who wanted some “instructions” for homemade Marmite. That was easy enough; however, I had never made the connection between the Marmite of my “birth right” to natto, a “foreign”, exotic fermented bean product.

    Obviously Nigel was correct in his discernment, what is natto if not the Japanese Marmite?!

    Years ago, I had a houseguest from Alabama. At the breakfast table, along with variety bottles of jams and other condiment dishes, sat quietly a jar of Marmite. As soon as I put the steaming fresh loaf on the table, my guest enthusiastically reached out to the Marmite jar and spread a thick layer of the salty yeasty substance on her slice.

    Before I could voice a word of warning, she took a bite of her bread and her face changed, “What is this?!”

    “Marmite”, I sheepishly murmured, “what did you think it was?”

    “Well, I thought it was Nutella,” she said.

    My guest went out that day and bought a bottle of Nutella and I discovered that my dislike of the sweet substance equaled her contempt towards my beloved Marmite.

    Digression not withstanding, the reason I wanted to get into making natto is due to my love for fermented food, the health benefit is simply icing on the cake.

    It turned out finding natto-moto was the most difficult task of all. Even though my city is known for its “cuisine of the world”, somehow I couldn’t find commercial natto in any of the Asian grocery stores. After much effort, a small box of natto-moto was found in a health food establishment specializing in mushrooms.

    Not a big fan of soybeans, I opted for my beloved Eden organic black turtle beans. After some small hiccups with temperature adjustment in my oven, the “boring” steamed black beans became the slimy, stringy and smelly natto that every Marmite lover would desire.

    A friend who grew up in France made the remark that natto smelt and tasted like blue cheese to him – I’m not so certain. Perhaps.


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