Ann Yonetani: An Accidental Microbe Farmer

Learn how a passion for beneficial foods and microbiological diversity led this New York professor to begin selling a Japanese fermented staple in the United States.

Photo by Chris Chen
Ann Yonetani serves black natto over a coconut-milk yogurt parfait for a 2018 event in New York City.

From sushi to ramen, there are plenty of Japanese staples Americans have readily embraced. Natto, a superfood made from sticky fermented soybeans, isn’t one of them ... yet. This didn’t stop Dr. Ann Yonetani from launching NYrture Food, one of the only sources of handmade natto in the United States. Today, her company is one of the only fresh sources around.

That isn’t to say Yonetani set out to be a food entrepreneur; in fact, it’s something she “didn’t see coming in a million years.” It’s a tall order to introduce a new, slimy food to a country of slime-averse eaters, but natto is a food she fully believes in. It can be an acquired taste for some, but its health benefits are incredibly substantive, and the growing realization into natto’s functionality was the impetus for Yonetani to fill a gap where she saw one.

Bacteria-Centric Beginnings

While growing up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Yonetani was always interested in science. As the daughter of a biophysicist father, she was particularly fascinated in uncovering the “why” behind patterns that form in nature. It was a question she never tired of asking, and as she earned a bachelor’s degree in biology, a master’s degree in biochemistry, and a doctorate in microbiology, she spent nearly two decades passionately engaged in cell reproduction research.

Adobe Stock/Successo

Alongside microbiology, food was something Yonetani was “equally obsessed with.” Her passions first collided when she became a professor at The New School in New York teaching classes on the intersection of food and science. 



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