From natto to dried sweet potatoes: What to know about Japan’s superfoods

June 24th, 2019

From fad diets to dubious science based on selling the "secret" to eternal youth, the culture of healthy eating and living has become big business — from consumer products to social media marketing. But when it comes to tried-and-true nutrition, one needs to look no further than two popular superfoods in Japan: natto and dried sweet potatoes. Eaten by the Japanese for thousands of years, natto and hoshi imo (both of which are largely produced in Ibaraki prefecture), offer high nutrition and guilt-free snacking at a cheap price. These unprocessed foods are traditionally grown by local farmers using extremely low carbon prints. Dubbed "the Japanese Vegemite" thanks to its strong flavor (and smell), natto is a probiotic paste of fermented beans that offers gut-friendly bacteria. This healthful probiotic free from additives and preservatives is instead full of vitamins (B2, or Riboflavin, which is essential in helping the body burn fat and produce energy; and K2, which helps keep bones strong by regulating calcium deposition) thanks to the food's yeast and fermentation. This makes it a reliable vegetarian option, with approximately 16 grams of protein for every 100 gram pack. But making natto is hard work, and the best natto is still produced manually in Japan. At the Daruma Natto factory in Mito City, Ibaraki Prefecture, the boiled soybeans are wrapped in rice straw ("wara" in Japanese). Batches of these packages are then placed into a small room heated up to 40 degrees Celsius, where fermentation will work its magic for the next 18 hours to turn them into "wara natto." This kind of packaging is also environmentally friendly and sustainable due to the sourcing of the straw from the local rice fields. Kioko is a Japanese supermarket in Paris, France. Julien Royer, a clerk at Kioko Supermarket, says he is witnessing a change in the type of consumers that are interested in natto: "Natto customers in Paris have been almost exclusively Japanese until recently. But now, we have more and more French customers, especially older people. Natto is well known to be good for health and its virtues are praised." And natto isn't the only superfood that's gaining popularity overseas. Dried sweet potatoes ("hoshi imo" in Japanese) are a 100% naturally sweet snack popular in Japan and Asia, thanks in part to its silky and chewy texture. This low-calorie superfood comes packed with fiber, is low on sugar and is handmade using no machinery. Ibaraki Prefecture is Japan's most prolific producer of hoshi imo, accounting for more than 90% of the entire national production. Since there are no added ingredients, it all comes down to the process. Daimaruyama factory owner Kazutake Ohsone explains: "The shortest period they (sweet potatoes) are left to dry would be one week, the longest (being) three weeks. What's important is the sunlight and the sea breeze from the ocean. Those elements affect the sweetness." And while nature does most of the work, sweet potatoes and hoshi imo boast a variety of health benefits compared to normal potatoes. The food is sweet and safe enough that Japanese parents can mix it with water to feed babies under a year-old. In Asia, sweet potatoes are also often added to miso soups, salads or served as a side dish. The baked variety known as "yaki imo" is such a popular street food in Singapore that people gladly wait in to get one. #Japan #Superfood #natto #Ibaraki. #Hoshiimo #Dried #Sweet #Potato #Kairakuen #Oraiisosakijinja #Ushiku #Buddha #Superfood #Waranatto #わら納豆, #大丸屋, #daimaruya #だるま納豆 #daruma