Different Consumption Trends in China and the US Amid Overseas Natto Boom: Exports Double in 6 Years | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Different Consumption Trends in China and the US Amid Overseas Natto Boom: Exports Double in 6 Years

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Fermented Foods Become Popular Abroad in the “Health-Conscious” World

Natto has a strong image as a tasty and healthy fermented food. Natto is now being eaten overseas as well, and the amount of natto exported from Japan has doubled in the past six years. How is natto spreading overseas?

The Mitsukan Group, which sells the “Kinotsubu” series and “Kume Natto” in Japan, says that natto exports, especially to the United States, are growing by several percent per year. A spokesperson for the company says of local sales in the U.S. and other countries, “The number of stores selling our products in Asian supermarkets is increasing.

The increase in the number of Asian supermarkets selling our products has led to growth. Many of our customers are from Asia, and we believe that the way they eat natto is the same as in Japan.

Last year, natto exports from Japan totaled approximately 1.9 billion yen! This is almost double the amount exported in 2005 (PHOTO: AFRO)

Fascinated by “nattomaki” during a visit to Japan…

There is also the spread of natto through the experience of visiting Japan. The company believes that foreign visitors to Japan may have become natto eaters after returning to their home countries because of their experience of eating natto through nattomaki (natto rolls) and other means.

Natto exports from Japan totaled about 1.9 billion yen last year, up 7.6% from the previous year. This is almost double the surge compared to 2005. According to the Ministry of Finance trade statistics, the percentage of export destinations last year included the U.S. at 26%, China at 21.7%, Hong Kong at 9.6%, Taiwan at 7.4%, South Korea at 5.6%, Australia at 5.1%, and Canada at 3.6%.

An official of the National Federation of Natto Cooperative Associations believes that “health consciousness” is behind the increase in natto exports to China and Hong Kong.

There is a belief in the safety and security of Japanese food products, and this belief has spread mainly to urban areas. Statistics by Japanese customs show that exports from Hokkaido are high, and the Hokkaido brand stands out.

The historical background of the expansion of exports to China can be attributed to Deng Xiaoping’s “reform and open-door policy,” which was promoted by China’s most powerful man, Deng Xiaoping, and the spread of Japanese food products through Yaohan and other companies that entered the Chinese market and handled them, and through the communities of people involved with Japanese companies.

In the U.S….they eat it as is, without any sauce or spices!

A representative of the Federation says, “It is the same in the U.S. that natto spreads by creating points of contact with natto locally. In particular, he points out the following about the spread of natto in the U.S.

The Japanese business community spread fermented food to Asian people such as Koreans, and it also spread to Anglo-Saxons and other groups based on health. There is an image of Japan as a healthy food oriented, safe and secure country.”

In Japan, natto is often eaten with rice. How do people overseas eat natto?

In China, it seems they eat it not on the rice, but in-to soup, or with a shabby sauce, or just as it is. The seasoning is lighter and the dipping sauce is more.”

According to Tokyo Customs’ “Natto Export” website, natto is often used as an ingredient in soups and other soups in Southeast Asia, and in the U.S., it is often eaten without any sauce or spices, as is, or with leafy vegetables, according to the website. On the other hand, the report also says that although the number of people eating natto overseas is increasing due to health consciousness, the majority of people are not comfortable with its stickiness and smell.

Recently in Japan, natto is not only eaten with rice, but is also mixed into salads and other dishes in a variety of ways. A look at Mitskan’s natto recipe website shows that natto lovers will find a variety of dishes to try, such as natto and cabbage okonomiyaki, natto cold yakko with pickles, and natto with shirasu (a type of fermented soybeans).

According to the website of the National Federation of Natto Cooperative Associations, natto is produced when natto bacillus grows on the surface of boiled soybeans. Fermentation takes about 20 to 22 hours, and the minimum time from the start of production to shipment is about three days. The health benefits include immunity-enhancing effects, intestinal regulation, weight loss, fatigue relief, antibacterial and sterilizing effects, and bone vitality.

In Hawaii supermarkets, the package looks like this!

‘If you freeze it, you can eat it for about 180 days.’

The person in charge of natto at the federation says, “You can eat natto for about 180 days if you freeze it. Exports are basically frozen natto. Thawing is done by “putting it in the refrigerator before eating, and it will taste good after about one day,” he says.

However, the federation’s representative also said that frozen natto exported overseas “may not be eaten as delicious because people do not know how to handle it, such as thawing. From a Japanese point of view, this is unfortunate.

If this is the case, it does not mean that local production overseas is the only way to go. The overseas market is small and only exports are available,” said a spokesperson for the Mitsukan Group.

Overseas sales also present challenges. According to a spokesperson for the Mitsukan Group, “The laws and regulations of each country define the ingredients (such as sauce) that may be used, and there are natto products that cannot be exported to certain countries and regions.

Furthermore, China is reacting to the problem of treated water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant, which is causing a strong windstorm against Japanese food products in the region. A representative of the National Federation of Natto Cooperative Associations said that last year’s natto exports to China “outpaced those to the U.S. in the first half of the year, but stalled from September onward. Natto exports to China, which have been the driving force behind natto exports, may remain sluggish for the time being.

Nevertheless, natto can be enjoyed overseas as long as it is defrosted and eaten in the right way. There is still room for growth in natto exports. A representative of the federation said, “I hope Shohei Otani likes hand-rolled natto sushi,” and hopes to see natto gain more recognition in the future.

  • Interview and text by Hideki Asai

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