NAVITIME Travel - Japan Travel Guides, Transit Search and Itinerary Planner

Discovering Natto in Ibaraki

  • Natto, that distinctly-perfumed slurry of fermented soybeans that so many Japanese people start their day with, is not a recent invention, but for most of its history, it was a local product produced in small batches and packed in rice straw. The way that we enjoy natto now—dumped from a Styrofoam carton and hit with dashi, soy sauce or mustard from plastic packets—is a fairly recent innovation. Natto producers in Ibaraki Prefecture provide a glimpse into the past and a hint at the future of the beans.

    Discovering Natto in Ibaraki

    Discovering Natto in Ibaraki

    Industrial natto is to wara natto as nacho cheese is to a wedge of ripe Bleu d'Auvergne. The Mito Natto Company packs their natto in the traditional way: rice straw. The unique bacterial life that thrive in natto and give it its unique texture and dank aroma seem to be stronger in wara natto. The Mito Natto Company operates a store at EXCEL department store (find it in the EXCEL South Building, on the third floor), connected to Mito Station, selling the wara natto and their other products.

    Discovering Natto in Ibaraki

    Discovering Natto in Ibaraki

    Tengu Natto is another local natto institution, located not far from Mito Natto’s shop at Mito Station. The site still operates a factory producing wara natto but the real attraction is the Natto Exhibition Hall (admission is free and it’s open 9am to 5:30pm) which lays out the history of natto production in the area and educates visitors on the work that goes into producing wara natto.

    Discovering Natto in Ibaraki

    Discovering Natto in Ibaraki

    Ibaraki and the agricultural lands around Mito had a long tradition of artisanal natto production but the founder of Tengu Natto was one of the first to standardize the process and begin producing natto at a larger-scale. The company is a relatively small player in the natto business, but a stop by the factory and Exhibition Hall is a great way to learn about the product. For those interested in buying Tengu Natto’s wara natto, the company runs a shop not far from Mito Natto’s shop on EXCEL department store’s third floor, beside Mito Station.

    Discovering Natto in Ibaraki

    Discovering Natto in Ibaraki

    Kikusui Food, based in Hitachi City, a little further up the coast from Mito, represents another side of the natto business—avant-garde natto. Kikusui is known for sleek design and scientific rigor. The striking black natto that Kikusui produces is the result of years of experimentation with local beans. The company makes two lines of gold natto: one made with sleek yellow beans and the other with the local black soybeans—and both are packaged with real gold flake.

    Discovering Natto in Ibaraki

    Discovering Natto in Ibaraki

    The company’s products stand out. They have moved away from the tried and true packaging formula of three Styrofoam trays wrapped in plastic. The company has also experimented with biodegradable packaging, attempting to replicate the green-before-its-time rice straw wrappers of wara natto. The price point, especially for products like the black gold natto (648 yen, available by mail-order), also set Kikusui apart. The company has innovated, selling a natto enriched with minerals harvested from the Ibaraki coastline, and another designed as a gateway natto, with reduced stickiness.

    Discovering Natto in Ibaraki

    Discovering Natto in Ibaraki

    Kikusui has also had fruitful collaborations. Their first, with the chef of Tokyo-based Yukari, an exclusive kaiseki joint in Nihonbashi, produced a range of sauces meant as a condiment for their products. The natto gyoza are the fruits of a collaboration with ramen and gyoza shop Gankoichiban—as with all of Kikusui’s products, the simplicity is deceiving: the pork is from farms in the prefecture, the recipe changes with the season, and countless hours of research were devoted to finding a natto with limited stickiness that would work with the gyoza filling.

    Mito
    Address
    Ibaraki Pref. Mitoshi Miyamachi 1-chome
    Phone
    tengunattosohonke Mito Sta. building 3F Excel Minami
    Address
    Ibaraki Pref. Mitoshi Miyamachi 1-1-1 Mito Station Building Excel south 3F
    Phone
    0292313954
    Kikusui Food
    Address
    Ibaraki Hitachi Higashionumacho 4-29-11
    Phone
    0294525443
  • Facebookでシェアする
  • Twitterでシェアする