These Akita beauties will bust our food budget, but can they win our heart?

Natto (fermented soybeans) has a divisive aroma, but just about everyone in Japan agrees that it’s a healthy and nutritious food. Another thing natto has going for it is that it’s extremely affordable…or at least it usually is.

Today, though, we’re going to the extreme end of the price scale by eating the most expensive natto in Japan.

Sold by Akita Prefecture natto specialty shop Fukujiro, this is Tanba Kuro Natto, also known as the “black diamonds” of fermented soybeans. At most Japanese supermarkets you can get a three-serving pack of natto for as little as 80 yen (US$0.70), but a two-serving pack of Tanba Kuro will cost you 2,160 yen. Add in the cost of shipping for our online order, and the total comes to 3,370 yen, or 1,685 yen (US$16.30) per serving, more than 63 times the price of normal natto.

Starting off with a visual inspection, we removed one serving of Tanba Kuro from its packaging, peeling back the wrapper and snapping some strands of stickiness.

Then we grabbed a bean with our chopsticks, and were immediately startled by its gigantic size.

Compared to a normal-sized natto soybean, we’d say the Tanba Kuro is about four times bigger.

But no one is shelling out 63 times what they need to for natto just for some nicer-looking beans, so how do they taste? To find out, first we had to stir them up, a necessary pre-natto dining ritual.

Now, ordinarily once you’ve got your natto stirred, the next stop is to dump it over a bowl of freshly cooked white rice. With the Tanba Kuro, though, that’s the wrong move. That’s because Fukujiro specifically says that this premium natto is crafted not to pair with rice, but to be eaten on its own, as a snack or side dish.

Figuring classy natto calls for classy tableware, we grabbed the most stylish tray we had in the cupboard and arrayed the Tanba Kuro with a few seasonings recommended by Fukujiro.

Taste testing duties went to our Japanese-language reporter Kohei, since as someone who eats two packs of natto a day, he’s got the most experienced palate on our team. He started off by lightly dabbing a bean in some salt

…and he was immediately bewitched by the black magic spell of the Tanba Kuro. “This is amazing!!!” he exclaimed. “It’s completely shattered my concept of what natto can be because of how packed with umami it is.”

Next up, a bit of grated garlic paste…

…and once again, he was blown away. “The natto flavor completely holds its own with the garlic, for a great, balanced taste.”

Last, some negi (green onion) and natto sauce…

…and yep, the Tanba Kuro went three for three. “This is absolutely superb,” Kohei gushed.

Each serving has about 40 beans in it, and Kohei polished them off with a smile on his face the whole time.

So what about Fukujiro’s advice that Tanba Kuro isn’t supposed to be eaten with rice?

Well, despite the warning, Kohei tried it that way too, and sure enough, the combination left him disappointed. Somehow, it felt like the flavor of the rice covered up the Tanba Kuro, as opposed to how eating the beans with seasonings only seemed to draw out more of their inherent flavor.

So if you’re ordering some Tanba Kuro (which you can do here), you’ll definitely want to follow Fukujiro’s suggestion. Besides, when you’re eating the most expensive natto in Japan, you want to let it have the spotlight all to itself.

Photos ©SoraNews24
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Follow Casey on Twitter, where he’d like to thank everyone who noticed the Akita bijin linguistics joke.

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