While Japan imported soy sauce and tofu (soy bean curd) from China, the native Japanese dish known as natto (fermented soy beans) is at long last beginning to receive reciprocal treatment by China.
Sprinkling of the natto bacteria (naturally present in straw) on warm, boiled beans results in their fermentation, boosting the beans' nutritional value and making them a healthy and inexpensive meat substitute.
Unfortunately, their slimy texture and pungent odor tend to alienate fastidious eaters, which is a pity as natto, in addition to being cholesterol free, is an inexpensive source of iron, calcium, magnesium, protein, potassium, Vitamins B6, B2, E, K2 and others.
In addition to being sprinkled over boiled rice and wrapped in seaweed ("natto-maki"), natto can be used as a garnish on spaghetti, a topping for pizzas, and mixes well with various other foods.
More important, natto is considered a health food in Japan, believed to reduce incidence of stroke and other problems linked to modern lifestyles. In addition to the usually sticky state, natto is also dried and processed and sold in the form of snacks, dietary supplements and even in health tonics.
J-Cast News (June 8) reports that in China, demand for natto has been growing rapidly, with the beans and various supplements that use natto as their main ingredient being touted as a "divine medication."
An item posted on June 4 on Record China, "Japan's largest China-related internet site" (http://www.recordchina.co.jp/) reads, "Natto is the secret of Japanese longevity." It also made the claim that "Natto is a savior for cardiac or stroke patients."
A search of the Internet in Chinese led to a site that claims the product is "100% imported from Japan" and "the sole designated agent." The seller markets 10 boxes of natto peptide supplements for 3,200 Chinese yuan -- about 52,000 Japanese yen. The products are boasted to be a "savior" for the circulatory system, promising relief from high blood pressure or hardening of the arteries; relief from fatigue; prevention of aging; cancer prevention; beauty enhancement.
Those who inquire about the products at the health food counters of department stores or drug stores in China will receive a similar sales pitch.
On the other hand, the media have reported the case of one woman who purchased "natto capsules" and suffered a subsequent physical collapse, leading a dietary specialist to issue the disclaimer that "Natto is a food item, and not medicine. It is unacceptable to make claims that health foods can be effective in curing diseases."
It is known that because of its high levels of protein, overconsumption of natto can increase the burden on the kidneys, possibly leading to episodes of gout.
A spokesperson for Japan's Federation of Natto Associations told J-Cast News, "More natto has been appearing in the Chinese market, but some are produced locally. The Japanese variety is superior, quality-wise."
"Natto is certainly high in protein. But any food, no matter how healthy, can be bad for you if overconsumed," he continued, adding, with obvious pride: "Still, there has never been a reported case of damage to health through consumption of natto."
An unnamed natto producer informed J-Cast News, "Recently I've heard that sales of natto have been increasing in China, but since nearly all of Japan's producers are relatively small scale operators, I've never heard any of them say that they were confident about entering the Chinese market.
"What's more, to promote natto supplements as a remedy for all kinds of sicknesses sounds to me like the kind of outrageous claims that could only happen in China," he remarked.© Japan Today