• soybeans

“Natto” is a symbol of Japanese food culture, known in Japan as the “king of fermentation”.

Ibaraki Prefecture is well-known for producing various types of high-quality natto. Its taste and health benefits were initially spread through word of mouth by travelers and Ibaraki has a longstanding reputation as the as the birthplace of Japanese natto.

The Japanese are known for having one of the world’s highest life-expectancies. This is inextricably linked to their consumption of fermented foods.

Micro-organisms have been used in food processing in Japan since ancient times and have led to the creation of a large variety of fermented foods. Certain fermented foods are made only in a specific area of Japan, but are now eaten all over the country. Fermentation is well-suited to Japan’s warm and humid climate. The main types of fermented foods are natto, dried bonito, soy sauce, miso, sake, mirin, sweet sake, and vinegar.

Fermented foods add complexity to flavor. They are prepared so as to ensure each individual product retains its unique personality and distinctive taste.

Fermented foods originated from an ancient form of research and development designed to find ways to preserve food and thereby overcome starvation.

This ancestral wisdom has bequeathed a veritable national treasure, natto, that is kind on the body and high in nutritional content. This wealth of historic natto research has been handed down over the centuries among Japanese and has now been extended for the benefit and pleasure of the next generation.

Japanese food has attained Intangible Cultural Heritage status from UNESCO and its benefits for the mind and the body are clear from an analysis of the traditional everyday Japanese diet.

Natto is a quintessential element of Japanese food and culture, but one that has not traditionally been consumed widely outside Japan, due to the food’s strong fermentation odor.

However, the Ibaraki Prefectural Industrial Technology Center has used the recent discovery of a new natto bacillus to develop a less-stringy form of natto that should help erase the product’s negative image overseas, while retaining its health benefits and distinctive taste. In replacing natto’s powerful fermentation odor with a more delicate scent evocative of Japanese food culture, the technique paves the way to increase the use of traditional Japanese ingredients in new cuisine. To mark this development, the new product has been named mamenoka, which translates to “fragrant beans” in English.

This innovation has given birth to a delicious, healthy and nutritionally rich food product – mamenoka – that can be likened to a kind of “cheese from the fields”. Considering the health benefits that natto – the pride of Japanese food culture – can bring to the people of the world, I hope it can be become a traditional food for the world too in the future.

Hiroshi Fujiwara

Mamenoka Project Superviser