French natto!

dragon-natto1.jpg

As I slowly settle in to my new life here in France, I’m finding out about quite a lot of interesting local suppliers of the things that I want to eat, wear, sit on, or otherwise use. But I never thought that I’d find this: French natto!

I’ve written about natto here before of course, but in case you are new here, natto are cooked soy beans to which a bacilllus that grows on rice straw is added, then allowed to ferment (much like yogurt) until they develop a sticky substance on their surface. It’s one of the most infamous “eww” foods around. Detractors claim that it not only looks offputting, but that it smells like old socks or worse. Not even all Japanese people like natto - the further west and south you go in the country, the less people seem to like it.

I am definitely in the natto-lover camp though. Besides being very nutritious, natto is also very cheap in Japan, so a bowl of natto and rice is something that a poor starving student could live on if needed for some time, perhaps with the occasional vegetable and fruit thrown in (into the diet, not the natto). However, here in Europe natto is not that cheap, so I’ve had to ration my intake for years. (When I was in Japan I had natto almost every other day to compensate.) I tried cooking my own soy beans and making my own natto, but it never turned out quite right…either it was not sticky-stringy enough, or developed a slightly unpleasant sour taste, or something.

So, imagine my surprise and excitement when I found out that there is a small company making natto right here in France. Not only in France, but here in the Provence! The company is called Natto du Dragon and they are located in the small village of Draguignan, in the Var region of Provence. We ordered a 3-pack to try it out. Each pack has 150 grams of sticky goodness. The label indicates that is it a guaranteed ‘bio’ product. I believe that it’s sold mainly at bio or health food stores in France.

dragon-natto-label.jpg

The beans have a slight white bloom, which is fine. When mixed up with some soy sauce, the beans developed a lot of satisfyingly sticky strings.

dragon-natto3.jpg

dragon-natto2.jpg

And the taste? Well, it’s quite strong - not unpleasantly so, but much more assertive than most commercial natto is these days. It has a distinct cheesy taste, which reminded me of a local cheese called Banon, that is made in the village of Banon, not so far from where the natto is made. A Banon is traditionally aged wrapped in chestnut leaves, and gets more a more pungent with time. A 2-year old Banon is almost black and very smelly indeed, in a lovely way.

Banon

I would not be surprised if the bacteria that gives local cheeses their unique flavor has somehow found its way into the bacillus natto of the Natto du Dragon, turning it into a truly French natto. I love the mysterious ways in which bacteria and other things work in fermented foods.

Now that I have a local source for one of my favorite foods, I no longer have to ration myself so strictly. Already it seems more like home here.

Natto du Dragon ships to other European countries besides France too, so if you are curious about how a French natto tastes, give them a try!

Natto preparation notes

My favorite way to eat natto is to just add a bit of soy sauce or even salt to it, and mix well. To temper the strong smell and taste, try adding some finely chopped green onions to it. Another popular addition is some reconstituted mustard powder (or in other words, straight mustard, not Dijon style mustard or something). Wasabi can work too. Some people like to add a bit of dashi stock powder.

On a somber note

I actually wrote this up early last week, and was all ready to post it, when the terrible floods that you may have read about in the news happened. Draguignan, the viilage where Natto du Dragon is located, was the village that was the epicenter if you will of the floods. (some dramatic photos here.) I wanted to make sure if Natto du Dragon was okay before I posted this - and I’m happy to report that they are.

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Re: French natto!

How about adding a raw egg yolk? I've also "heard" that stirring it a thousand times makes it taste better XD Joking aside, the only way I've been able to stand eating natto is to add the raw egg yolk, some soy sauce, and mix it like crazy with chopsticks until it resembles a light-yellow mousse. Then I pour it on rice. I wonder if this would fly in the States where raw eggs are looked down upon.

Angelica | 22 June, 2010 - 14:44

Re: French natto!

My mom always served natto gohan with an egg yolk! (she even fed me straight raw egg over fresh hot rice- mixed with a little shoyu and ajinomoto) I tried to feed this to my own children and they looked at me like I was CRAZY! Then they 'told on me' to my mother-in-law! And you are right about the raw eggs stigma in the States (Cali for us)! Natto is one of my all time favorite comfort foods and I am blessed to have so many Japanese Markets in the Sacramento area! Congrats on finding it in France- of all places! :)

Linda Jefferson | 18 January, 2013 - 00:20

Re: French natto!

Here in Brussels we can get delicious Japanese natto (frozen) for a good price from Tagawa Superstore. They also have excellent Sushi on Saturdays (12 € for 9 pieces).
PS: I am not employed or paid by the store, just a happy regular customer.

So Hungry | 22 June, 2010 - 14:47

Re: French natto!

A very interesting post. It's so comforting to find your favorite food. I've never heard of natto before, and would love to try it. I love all cheese I've tried so far! Except Swiss, I have to have that melted on a Ruben!(not that that has anything to do with it) I hope the floods are receding, and am happy to hear your natto is safe.

Lyndsey | 22 June, 2010 - 14:57

Re: French natto!

I'll have to watch for that... Locally (Milwaukee, WI, US), we only seen Japanese natto, usually pre-sauced, in little tubs (maybe 100ml) with pull-back foil lids, and all of them are pretty mild for the amount of noise people make about it.

One of my favorite ways of eating it is to make a very thin 1-egg omelet and roll a large spoonful of the natto up in it like a small burrito.

Peter H. Coffin | 22 June, 2010 - 15:08

Re: French natto!

And...now I'm very hungry. Next time I'm at the local Japanese food supply store I'm picking up natto. I was too chicken to try it before but that looks delicious.

Van | 22 June, 2010 - 15:11

Re: French natto!

Very interesting post, this is the first time I've heard of this before.

Kalynskitchen | 22 June, 2010 - 15:48

Re: French natto!

my husband loves natto. I'm glad that you and the maker are okay, I saw footage of the floods it looked terrible and very scary.

katnhwi | 23 June, 2010 - 01:54

Re: French natto!

Urp.

Sorry, this is one food that I just do not like. (That smell! The texture!) I can't even convince myself that it's "fermented" and not just "rotted" (since usually the difference is an anaerobic/aerobic environment... anaerobic, you get wine. Aerobic, you get vinegar. Same here, at least in my mind.)

I do think that it's completely awesome that you have a local source for a food that you love. Nothing's better than that. :)

Shari | 23 June, 2010 - 06:48

Re: French natto!

Japan Centre recently started to have natto online-- but you can only get it on Mondays!

I was excited to try this French natto, but then I looked at the website and it's in French and I can't read a single word of french. *blushes*

MN | 24 June, 2010 - 09:21

Re: French natto!

Wow, natto in France and in Provence. Really amazing find.

Tony | 25 June, 2010 - 02:21

Re: French natto!

i love the frenchified recipes on the natto-dragon website! using it as a spread on some french bread or as a salad dressing sounds like it might be good. thankfully i live very close to a japanese supermarket so i'll have to give some of these recipes a whirl.

brooke j | 25 June, 2010 - 19:16

Re: French natto!

What a wonderful discovery. Hope the French company makes lots of money so that they keep it up. I'd love to taste a locally-made natto.

In south Florida USA, where I live, Japanese natto is pretty inexpensive--about $3.00 US for three (or four depending on the brand) of those little styrofoam packets.

I'm American, but natto has still become my highest-ranked comfort food. I just love the stuff.

(Oh, and for Angelica, pasteurized whole raw eggs are pretty easy to find here, too. No need to fear raw eggs.)

Arthur3030 | 25 June, 2010 - 20:14

Re: French natto!

I am so glad the Natto producers survived the flooding. Water is truly frightening.

I haven't had the courage to try Natto, though I've read about the health benefits. My family enjoy both (mild) Japanese and French foods, so the "frenchified" recipes look like a good way to introduce it. Thank you!

I've been a fan for about a year. Wish I'd found your Just Bento site sooner, but my daughter loved the creative lunches I made in her last year of high school. In a couple months, she is off to college. I'll miss making her lunches.

Ronnie | 27 June, 2010 - 02:33

Re: French natto!

Wow! I absolutely LOVE natto, but unfortunately Japan Centre will not ship this item outside of the UK (I live in France), and Workshop Issé does not stock it as far as I am aware.

Now, thanks to you kindly sharing this with us, I discover it is made where I live! Well, I do not live near Draguignan, but I will definitely be ordering some online.

Once again, many thanks!

Sasza

Sasza | 28 June, 2010 - 13:35

Re: French natto!

Just this weekend I had a dish called Natto Tuna and had no idea what natto was. What looked like beans in some sticky substance was delicious. It took getting home to google to find out what it was I ate...and what the glutinous substance was...this post is a great co-incidence.

Natalie Sztern | 28 June, 2010 - 22:29

Re: French natto!

French natto. Awesome! And now you can even listening to an English-language podcast about natto!!
http://www.zencast.com/channels/showchannel.asp?mc=3&cid=12352
Episode #28

anon. | 6 July, 2010 - 05:31

Re: French natto!

Kudos on the French natto maker! I wish someone would start making it in Australia too. I get inexpensive natto from a Japanese mart in Melbourne but would really like to try some fresh, locally made ones instead of the frozen stuff.

Tracy | 5 October, 2011 - 17:29

Re: French natto!

Hi Maki,
I have been reading a lot about natto lately because it's one of the those powerhouses that contains the highest levels of Vitamin K2, which can only be found in certain foods, such as egg yolks, Gouda cheese, butter.. Vitamin K2 helps place calcium into the right places, which are the bones, and takes it out of the blood and prevents osteoporosis and arterial calcification. So, I'm not only trying to help my mother improve her stenosis situation, but am also trying to get it for me so I can prevent having her condition in the future. I'm happy to see there are European sources for natto. I've never tried it, but can't wait to get my hands on some and start eating it! If you have more suggestions as to how to eat it, please let me know. (You can send me a private email if you wish.) I have no qualms with raw eggs ;-). Thank you for a great post.. now to keep discovering the rest of your blog! xo Debra @ The Saffron Girl, a Paleo blog (if you're interested in Paleo lifestyle)!

Debra @The Saffron Girl | 22 March, 2014 - 10:17

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