Natto spelled nattō (納豆) is a Japanese cultured soybean dish. It is made with the help of a bacterial culture, namely Bacillus subtilis var natto.

The bacteria create a stringy polymer biofilm as they ferment the beans. They also create the enzyme nattokinase, which is known as an immunity boosting and cardiovascular disease thwarting compound. (source)

In Japan, it is traditionally eaten as a breakfast food, over rice with scallions and soy sauce. However, it is quite versatile, and can be mixed anywhere where beans are called for!

You need a source of the starter which contains the bacterial culture. For finding high quality starter cultures, I like both Cultures for Health (*I am an affiliate) and GEM Cultures (not an affiliate, just a fan) based in Washington state, united States. The latter is old school (you have to email your order, then they will request payment from you… but they at least use Paypal now!) However, I did not find the included recipe from GEM cultures to be helpful or very accurate. I found better advice in other places, including Cultures for Health.

I have read that you can use mature natto to backslop future batches, at least a few times before it weakens. I have not tried this myself, but intend to and will update this post in the future with results.

Natto is definitely an acquired taste! It has a rather interesting aroma (funky, a little like cheese),  and if you’re not used to it, a stringy texture which can be off-putting. The flavor is rather neutral, however, making it ideal for such (literal) mashup dishes as “natt-tuna salad” (fish-free!) or “natt-amole” (playing the lead role instead of avocado). I have made hummus with it, too. Having all those additional flavors traditional hummus offers is a great way to mask the questionable texture and flavor of natto.

If you’re familiar with my preferences, you know that I don’t like soybeans. Fortunately, like most cultured bean ferments, natto can be made with any legume! I successfully made natto batch using chickpeas.

I rigged up a cooler as the incubation chamber here. You could also use any kind of curing chamber that can hold a steady 104°F/40°C temperature for 18 to 24 hours or so. You don’t need to actively manage humidity, as long as you keep the beans covered with plastic and a towel during the culturing.

This one time, we were on a late night live talk show in Portland, Oregon, stirring natto from Wanpaku Natto.

As one reader points out, if the natto develops an ammonia-like aroma, it has likely fermented too long, or possibly was contaminated.

Natto (Chickpea)

Prep Time 12 hours
Fermentation Time 20 hours
Course Side Dish
Cuisine Japanese
Makes 1.5 lbs. (600g)


  • incubating chamber (box with heat source)


  • 1/2 lb (250 g) dried chickpeas
  • 1 tsp. (5 ml) home-scale natto starter (i.e. mixed with rice flour)
  • filtered water


  • Soak the dried chickpeas at least 12 hours in cool filtered water (3 pints or 750 ml).
  • Drain beans, and cook in 1 quart (1 liter) of fresh filtered water for 45 minutes at a slow simmer. Beans should be cooked completely through.
  • Sanitize a spoon and a shallow pan (a ceramic loaf pan, glass pie dish or casserole, e.g.) by pouring boiling water over it.
  • Drain beans, let cool down to 104°F/40°C. Optionally remove the husks. Pour beans into a shallow pan so that the depth of beans does not exceed 2 inches (5 cm).
  • Sprinkle natto starter and mix evenly throughout beans with sanitized spoon. Ensure layer is flat and even. Add plastic wrap to cover beans and keep most of the moisture in. They need a little oxygen, so you can leave one corner or edge of the wrap open.
  • Wrap container in a dish towel and place in a spot such as an incubator where a temperature of 104°F/40°C can be maintained for 18 to 24 hours.
  • Once at least 80% of the beans have developed a whitish splotchy layer on them (start checking at 12 hours), and a mild but funky cheese-like like aroma is present, it's done with this phase and time to remove them from the heat.
  • Remove from chamber. Place the natto (still wrapped) in the refrigerator to "cure" them for another 1 to 3 days for best flavor.
  • Store in an airtight container in refrigerator for up to a few weeks. For longer shelf life, divide into individual portions and store airtight in freezer.

5 thoughts on “Natto

  1. Harold Sukhbir Reply

    I use split chickpeas which yields even higher Nattokinase content (more surface area). Also ferment for 28 hours.

  2. Dr. John Reply

    You might try chana dal, which is a smaller chickpea (Desi) which has been split the hull removed. Cooks quickly in an instant pot and the yougurt setting is ideal for fermenting Natto. I am on my second batch using commercial soybean natto as my starter.

    • Austin Post authorReply

      Great tips! I’ll try those both. Instant pot is so versatile for fermenting! For the natto in the instant pot, do you need to worry about a maximum depth of the beans (e.g. only 2 inches deep max) for the natto to work?

  3. Lala Reply

    Two things – natto fermentation should develop nebe-nebe, or the characteristic stringiness, which I don’t see at all in your photo- looks like it needs more moisture during the ferment, or its been contaminated with another colonizing bacterium. Also, natto should not smell ammonia-like, if you develop strong ammonia smell that is a sign your fermentation has gone on too long. 16-18 hrs is usually sufficient, 24 is likely too long. Happy fermenting!

    • Austin Post authorReply

      Thanks for the tips! I made it again and I think I got better results. I wonder if chickpeas just take longer than soybeans (I was lazy and didn’t remove the chickpea hulls, maybe that contributed to the longer fermentation too). And I thought the nebe-nebe (stringiness) only showed up once you stir it. Are you saying the strings should be visible just at fermentation (without stirring it)?

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