Natto going global

Natto – a integral part of Japanese cuisine – was once only known abroad by hardcore foodies. But Japanese food makers are creating new forms of the fermented soybeans and gaining global fans.

Natto powder

Food company Sonomono, based in Fukuoka Prefecture, has invented a new form of natto by freeze-drying the fermented soybeans and turning them into powder.

The new product was originally made for domestic consumption, but three years ago Sonomono featured it on a US online shopping site. Now exports account for 20 percent of its sales, the maker says.

Japanese food maker Sonomono says its natto powder is attracting health-conscious customers in the United States.

Lacking the strong smell or stickiness of traditional natto, the powdered version goes well with various foods, including ice cream. The company has received feedback from new natto fans abroad. Some describe it as having a nutty flavor.

"Natto is rich in nutrients, including living bacteria. With the powdered form, you can add it to other foods by simply sprinkling it on," explains Sonomono President Hidaka Emi.

She is now aiming to expand exports – especially to the US, where demand is high for health products.

"Natto has long supported the health of Japanese people," Hidaka says. "If we can effectively convey how nutritious it is, I see excellent opportunities abroad."

Natto for dessert

A food maker in Kanagawa Prefecture has successfully eliminated natto's divisive smell while retaining its nutritional benefits by using an unexpected ingredient: coffee.

Shonan Soy Studio soaks soybeans in coffee instead of water before fermentation.

To make traditional natto, soybeans are first soaked and steamed in water before fermentation. But Shonan Soy Studio uses coffee instead.

The product – named Soyffee – looks just like ordinary natto and contains the same nutrition, but lacks its pungent odor.

In Japan, traditional natto is usually eaten with a sauce containing dashi. But Soyffee can be served in a variety of ways – even as a dessert with whipped cream or maple syrup.

Soyffee, which contains the nutritional benefits of natto without the smell, can even be eaten as a dessert.

The company says it's now getting inquiries from abroad.

"Many people like natto's nutrition but can't eat it because of the smell," says company representative Onooka Keita. "We want to deliver its nutritional value to the world by eliminating that issue."

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