What Does Natto Taste Like? My First Hand Experience

Imagine smelling a bonfire, a skunk, a bottle of nail polish, and fish food flakes. Now, make that smell into a flavor and that’s what natto tastes like.  

If that wasn’t bad enough, natto is also simultaneously sticky, slimy, and pasty. Between the taste and texture, it’s enough to make even the most adventurous stomach turn.

To make matters worse, the strange substance that holds these fermented beans together has a tendency to make little strings similar to melted marshmallows, but no amount of twisting, pulling, or otherwise coercing is enough to stop them from sticking to your chin while you try not to gag.

So, Why do the Japanese eat this Stuff?

Natto is rumored to be the food substance that causes a split between the Japanese; half of them love the stuff and half of them can’t stand it.

Then there are those few random outliers who claim that they grew to like this uniquely flavored dish after trying it a few times.

I tend to sympathize with the side that hates the dish, but I’m particular about the textures of the foods that I’m eating and I don’t plan on giving it the chance to grow on me.

picture of people waiting for subway in kyoto

Despite its supposed acquired taste (or lack thereof), natto has a whole range of intriguing health benefits, from serving as a digestive aid to helping you avoid heart disease, some even say it helps reduce the risk of specific cancers.

So whether this strange concoction is served in most Japanese restaurants because people like it or because it possesses all sorts of wonderful health benefits despite the incredibly off-putting, pungent odor, it is a common Japanese dish and like I said, one worth trying, even if it’s just to say you have tried it once.

But, Why is Natto Sticky?

If you’re anything like me, foods with a weird texture aren’t your first choice.

Natto is intimidating in that aspect.

The weird sticky, stringy goop in natto might have made natto difficult for me to stomach, but the science behind it is actually quite fascinating to me.

When you ferment soybeans they naturally produce polyglutamic acid or Gamma PGA, which is what makes natto’s signature stringy slime.

Polyglutamic acid is a supplement that is growing in popularity in the beauty world because it is such a successful moisturizer.

Some even say it is the best moisturizer.

Since I wasn’t a fan of the flavor, maybe I’ll try putting the natto on my skin before bed instead of eating it next time (or maybe I’ll try eating my moisturizer and see which one tastes better – my money is on the moisturizer).

Are you Supposed to Eat Natto Hot or Cold?

There are actually a lot of ways to eat natto other than the version I tried.

When I ordered it, it came in a small dish topped with some finely chopped green onions and it was cold, but this is just one version of natto that is offered out of the many that are out there.

Some people do think that warm natto is the way to go, and others suggest topping the natto with something or serving it over rice or in noodles (like this natto noodle dish here).

natto served in a noodle dish

As I mentioned, my natto arrived cold and topped with green onions.

The first bite was so unsettling, I tried mixing in the green onions, which seemed to only bring out more of the skunky flavor of the dish.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have the option of other condiments at the restaurant I was at, but it definitely could have used something to change up the flavor.

Even some rice would have been a welcome break from the weird texture and strange taste.

Where Can I Buy it if I like it?

Even though I think the dish is strange, the popularity of natto has continued to grow more and more.

Now it can be found in any number of Japanese restaurants near you and is available in several places online too.

Even Amazon has started selling it. If you happen to have an authentic Asian supermarket near you, the dish will more than likely be available there too.

Based on my experience, I would highly recommend going to an authentic Japanese restaurant and having someone experienced to prepare the natto before you try purchasing it at the supermarket or online and attempt to make it at home.

Not only is the risk of messing it up way lower, but because it is a relatively inexpensive dish, you won’t be spending lots of money on a dish you may or may not like.

So, is it Worth Trying Natto?

I’ll be honest, I thought that natto was disgusting, but I still think it’s worth trying at least once in your life.

When I finished my small portion of the stuff, I chugged two full glasses of water. Then I begged my brother to give me a stick of gum.

The pungent flavor was heavy on my breath and it seemed like no amount of brushing my teeth or gargling with mouthwash would take it away.

I don’t see myself searching out a new opportunity to eat natto or suddenly craving a dish of it.

In fact, I feel a little nauseous looking at the pictures of it.

But, despite my dislike of the dish, I’m glad to have had the experience. Not only was it eye-opening, but it was tinged with humor.

The waiter at the restaurant seemed to think I was crazy when I waltzed in and ordered a dish of natto.

He tried to recommend a sushi roll with natto instead of just plain natto before he gave up and accepted that I was determined to try the dish.

Then, he and the chef spent several minutes talking in the back before the chef came out and I was pointed out to him.

He shook his head and headed back into the kitchen.

I had promised myself that I would eat at least three full bites, but after the first three bites several members of the wait staff along with the chef were standing there watching and I forced myself to finish the entire thing.

As I said, though, this is just my honest opinion. I have many Japanese friends who love this stuff, so just give it a try. You truly will never know if you like it or not until you do!

Do a lot of People Eat Natto Then?

While it has been a Japanese staple food for a long time now, natto is growing in popularity all over the world, so more people are trying this strange sensation.

If you don’t trust me or you’re just looking for a little additional entertainment, spend a few minutes watching other people trying natto on this video by TabiEats, one of my favorite foodie YouTube channels.

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