The name "nutritional yeast" sounds a bit clinical, but this vegan-friendly ingredient adds a cheesy flavor to everything from popcorn to garlic bread to pasta. Aficionados often refer to it as "nootch." It's been in the spotlight in vegan cookbooks and vegetarian restaurants for a long time and for good reason: Fortified nutritional yeast provides a rare non-animal source of vitamin B12. But even the most committed meat-eaters can appreciate the savory seasoning Bon Appetit magazine called "nature's Cheeto dust."
What Is Nutritional Yeast?
An inactivated form of yeast commonly used to leaven bread, nutritional yeast looks like red pepper flakes, only yellow, or powdered Parmesan cheese, with which it shares a deceptively similar flavor, despite being non-dairy. Brewer's yeast comes from the same species, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, but don't confuse the two: While you can use the live version to make beer, the spent cells following fermentation would taste far too bitter to consume with any pleasure.
How to Use Nutritional Yeast
Vegetarian, vegan, or not, dried nutritional yeast is a versatile seasoning to keep right next to the salt and pepper. Shake a dusting on toast or a bagel, use it to flavor popcorn, add it to soups before serving, replace the classic Parmesan sprinkle on a plate of pasta, or watch it improve the kid-appeal of any type of vegetable.
Vegan-adapted recipes use nutritional yeast to add creaminess to sauces or to replicate traditionally cheese-laden dishes such as mac and cheese, au gratin potatoes, or Italian-style pasta casseroles.
What Does It Taste Like?
The words "nutty" and "cheesy" appear in nearly every description of nutritional yeast, yet the flavor does not replicate those ingredients exactly. It adds umami, that savory background note often referred to as the fifth taste, and similarly to salt, enhances the overall savoriness of dish, although it contains almost no sodium.
Recipes With Nutritional Yeast
Many vegetarian and vegan recipes call for nutritional yeast, either as a flavorful table seasoning or as an incorporated ingredient. But don't let your status as an omnivore keep you from trying the rave-worthy dishes.
Where to Buy Nutritional Yeast
Look for nutritional yeast in the bulk foods or supplement section of just about any natural foods store or health co-op, even the small ones. Most grocery stores, especially larger ones, also stock nutritional yeast. You might find it in a dedicated health-food section, with the packaged spices and seasonings, or on the baking aisle. Bragg and Bob's Red Mill are two widely distributed brands marketing packaged nutritional yeast, which you can also find online.
Transfer nutritional yeast purchased in bulk or in non-resealable bags into a completely dry glass container with an airtight lid when you get home. If you purchase nutritional yeast packaged in an airtight plastic container similar to spices and other seasonings, you can keep it in the store packaging in the pantry. In a cool, dark location, it should last for a couple of years. Put it in the refrigerator or freezer to extend the shelf life even more.
Nutrition and Benefits
A naturally gluten-free and vegan product, nutritional yeast gets its name from the essential vitamins and minerals found in the fortified brands. A 1/4-cup serving from Bob's Red Mill contains only 60 calories but delivers mega-doses of the B vitamins, including folic acid, plus protein, iron, and potassium, all without saturated fat or sugar. It's also very low in sodium with only 25 milligrams per serving, or just 1 percent of the daily value.
With especially high amounts of thiamin (980 percent daily value in Bob's Red Mill brand), riboflavin (750 percent daily value), and vitamin B12 (730 percent daily value), nutritional yeast provides an easy source of these essential nutrients for vegans and vegetarians. More readily found in animal-derived food products, the B vitamins regulate many of the body's metabolic functions. They are water-soluble, so your body will generally excrete any excess.
Keep in mind that nutritional yeast must be fortified to deliver these nutrients, so values may be different among brands or missing altogether.