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Four theories summary on the origin of natto

納豆博士:小笠原 和也 そのもの納豆

I would like to talk about the history of natto (Itohiki natto).

There are various theories and personal opinions about the origin of natto. I will summarize them.
 

Jomon-Yayoi period origin theory

It is well-known that rice cultivation began during the Jomon period (13000 BC to 300 BC). There is also evidence that soybeans were also introduced to Japan at that time and were cooked. These facts make feasible the accidental discovery of natto because rice straws contain the bacteria that transforms cooked soybeans into natto.

However, it is unlikely that the Jomon people discovered and maintained a stable natto manufacturing method.

Yunnan arriving theory

There is information about fermented food similar to natto in Yunnan Province, China. Some people believe natto was introduced from Yunnan to Japan in an early period.
Unfortunately, there are no vestiges of that fermented food in Yunnan, just stories. Therefore, it is impossible to know the truth.

Nara period arrival theory

A theory suggests that natto was brought to Japan from Tang (China) by an envoy to Tang during the Nara period (710-794 AD).

Actually, there is a seasoning used in China called Douchi or Shi similar to Itohiki Natto.

Minamoto no Yoshiie discovery theory

Minamoto no Yoshiie, commonly known as Taro Yawata, was the son of Minamoto no Yoriyoshi, the ancestor of Minamoto no Yoritomo and Takauji Ashikaga.

In 1051 AD, a war broke out in Mutsu Province (Iwate Prefecture) because Abe, the local landlord, neglected to pay tribute to the imperial court for several years.

At that time, Minamoto no Yoriyoshi was assigned to Mutsu province, so he was called to join the battle when the war started.

京に居た義家は援軍として急行します。急ぐ義家は、軍馬の餌となる煮大豆を冷ますことなく俵に詰め、馬にくくり付けて出発しました。

Yoshiie and his troops were camping in Kyo but suddenly were called as reinforcement. Boiled soybeans were used as food for horses during wartime. Due to the rush of the battle, Yoshiie stuffed freshly boiled soybeans into rice straw bales and attached them to the horses.
The combination of horses’ body temperature (around 40 ° C), high moisture, and bacteria attached to the rice straw bales fermented the soybeans into natto. During the march to the battle, Yoshiie noticed a pungent smell from the bales. He stopped to open them and discovered the soybeans were covered by a white layer of spongy appearance. To his surprise, the taste was good!

Many legends of Yoshiie and natto remain along the route from Kyo to Mutsu. Natto consumption is documented back to 1000 years in that region, and the current natto production is flourishing from Kita-Kantou to Tohoku.

納豆博士

By the way, Minamoto no Yoshimitsu (Shinra Saburo Yoshimitsu), the younger brother of Yoshiie, is one of my family ancestors (Ogasawara). I feel very proud that one of my ancestors discovered natto! I think it is not a coincidence that 1000 years later, my lifework and research focus on nattokinase and natto bacteria. Life is full of mysteries.

小笠原 和也

小笠原 和也 
そのもの株式会社学術顧問

熊本大学大学院医学教育部卒。 ナットウキナーゼをはじめとする機能性⾷品原料の研究開発、 35年間に渡る納⾖菌を主とする微⽣物学・醗酵学・酵素学の研究開発の経験をもとに幅広く活躍中。

小笠原 和也

小笠原 和也 
そのもの株式会社学術顧問

熊本大学大学院医学教育部卒。 ナットウキナーゼをはじめとする機能性⾷品原料の研究開発、 35年間に渡る納⾖菌を主とする微⽣物学・醗酵学・酵素学の研究開発の経験をもとに幅広く活躍中。

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