Founder: Heidi Nestler
Year founded: 2018
Product description: Fermented soybeans that look like they've been hit by Slimer.
Yearly sales: If Wanpaku had a full year under its belt, they'd be under $50,000.
Is it profitable?: Breaking even.
Available at: Green Zebra, People's Food Co-Op, Uwajimaya and soon New Seasons
The first thing that hits you when you walk into Heidi Nestler's house is the smell. There's a musk hanging in the air that you can't really place—unless you've had Japanese natto. The fermented soybeans are known for their distinct aroma and taste, and while not familiar to most in the U.S. at this point, Nestler believes it could be the new kimchi.
"You know how kimchi used to be super-weird or too stinky? I think the same idea is around natto," she says. "Our palates are collectively shifting."
Nestler lived and gave birth to two children in Japan, and the family was used to getting locally produced natto—often eaten for breakfast—from the refrigerated section of stores. When they moved to the States, though, only a few frozen options were available.
After learning about vegetable fermentation, she figured soybeans couldn't be much different, so she fired up a Japanese dual natto-yogurt maker and went to work. Now she's soaking, steaming and incubating in her certified home kitchen. The packet of beans comes unflavored, so customers have the freedom to add their own—soy sauce, toasted sesame oil and rice vinegar make fine additions to the product, which tastes a bit like muted pintos mixed with nutty cheese.
Or you can use them as an ingredient in everything from chili to meatloaf. Natto is also a food that's appropriate to play with—stir vigorously for two minutes for a sticky treat with a Rice Krispies-like consistency.
Guilty pleasure snack: "I like popcorn covered in butter. Salt and butter, that's the way."
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