Health Disclosure: This post is meant to be educational in nature and not a replacement for medical advice. Please consult your physician for dietary and nutritional guidance.
Nutritional yeast is one of the best things to have in any kitchen pantry. It’s a great substitute for cheese and it’s good for you! That’s why we’ve prepared a guide to help you know exactly what nutritional yeast is, why it’s healthy, ways to use it, and where to buy it. We’ve even included ten of our favorite recipes that harness some of the magic of nutritional yeast!
What is Nutritional Yeast?
Nutritional yeast sounds kind of clinical, doesn’t it? It most certainly doesn’t sound like something that is a tasty, nutritious, and delicious vegan cheese substitute, but in fact that’s what it’s most commonly used for.
Nutritional yeast is an inactivated type of yeast designed to be used as a food product. It’s more commonly known as a vegan-friendly seasoning and supplement. This tasty and versatile seasoning is vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, fat-free, non-GMO, and packed with nutritional benefits. Also known as “nooch,” nutritional yeast looks like yellow or red flakes. Despite it being 100% non-dairy, it has a similar look and taste to powdered Parmesan cheese. Some words that are commonly used to describe nutritional yeast are “cheesy” and “nutty.”
It’s got a strong umami flavor—a similar savory, tastebud-tingling flavor commonly found in broths, tomatoes, fish, mushrooms, cheese, and soy sauce. Umami is commonly considered the fifth taste—in addition to sweet, bitter, salty, and sour. Because of nutritional yeast’s savory umami note, some may also report that it tastes salty—even though it’s practically sodium free.
Nutritional yeast is derived from Saccharomyces cerevisiae, a species of yeast, or single-celled fungus microorganism. If this sounds familiar, it’s also because this is the same type of yeast that’s used to brew beer and bake bread. In fact, the only difference between nutritional yeast and baker’s yeast or brewer’s yeast is that nutritional yeast is inactivated, while the latter two are alive. All three types of yeast are grown on a sugar-rich medium, like molasses. After several days, the S. cerevisiae cells are ready to be used. During the manufacturing process, however, the yeast cells in nutritional yeast are killed off, meaning that nothing is alive in the final product.
What are the Health Benefits of Nutritional Yeast?
So, why exactly has nutritional yeast earned a spot in pantries and kitchen cupboards around the globe? In addition to being a super easy and tasty way to spice up any meal, it also has several health benefits that are especially important for those following a plant-based or dairy-free diet.
Whether you’re vegan, vegetarian, or neither, nutritional yeast is a versatile seasoning that provides you with many benefits. It’s considered a highly-nutritious food product that has a range of health benefits—antioxidants that help to minimize free radical damage, vitamin B12 that boosts energy, and carbohydrates that help to lower cholesterol, to name just a few.
Nutritional Yeast is High in Protein, Fiber, Vitamins and Minerals
Making some of these health benefits possible, nutritional yeast is extremely high in several essential vitamins and minerals. In just one teaspoon, you can expect to get more than 100% of your recommended daily value (RDA) of folate, around 200% of your daily recommended niacin, and around 400% or even 500% of your daily vitamin B6, riboflavin, and thiamin.
The vitamin nutritional yeast is most well-known for, however, is vitamin B12, an essential vitamin for red blood cell creation, metabolism, and energy. We don’t require a lot of vitamin B12, but for vegetarians and vegans, there are very few non-animal sources of it.
Vitamin B12 is produced by bacteria and typically found in animal products after they consume foods containing the vitamin themselves. For anyone eating a plant-based diet, the options for vitamin B12 are few, and include B12 supplements and fortified foods (like some alternative milks, energy bars, and meat analogues). Fortunately, fortified nutritional yeast provides an easy and delicious way to meet the RDA for vitamin B12 (2.4 micrograms)—and in some cases, just one tablespoon of certain fortified brands can provide more than six times the RDA of vitamin B12!
Nutritional yeast is also a fat-free and low-glycemic-index food (no sugar crashes here!). It’s low-carb, but does contain two types of carbohydrates: alpha-mannan and beta-glucan, and the latter has been shown to lower cholesterol.
The benefits of nutritional yeast continue! Even though it’s low in calories, it contains an impressive amount of fiber. In just two tablespoons, you can get around 5 grams of dietary fiber—about 20% of your daily recommended intake.
And, in that same amount (two tablespoons), someone will get not only a flavorful, cheesy-like addition to their meal, but also 10 grams of protein! Even better, nutritional yeast is a great source of complete protein.
Nutritional Yeast is a Complete Protein
So, what exactly is a complete protein? According to the Cleveland Clinic, “a food is considered a complete protein when it contains the nine essentai amino acids that our body cannot produce on its own.”
For those of us who need a middle school biology class refresher, amino acids are the building blocks of protein. There are 20 different amino acids that come together to create a protein. Eleven of these are created by our bodies, the other nine essential amino acids are required from the foods we eat.
It’s likely that you’ve commonly heard of combining sources of incomplete protein to get a complete protein meal (i.e. rice and beans). While eating complete protein foods isn’t absolutely essential, isn’t it great when you don’t have to plan a meal in order to get all the protein you need?
Not to mention, when following a vegan or plant-based diet, your sources of complete protein are limited—namely just soy foods like tofu, miso, tempeh, and edamame. This makes nutritional yeast all the more important for us!
Nutritional Content of Nutritional Yeast
Per 1 tbsp (9g) portion, Source: USDA
|Total lipid (fat)||0 g||–|
|Fiber, total dietary||2 g||6%|
|Vitamin B6||7.62 mg||381%|
|Vitamin B12||33.8 µg||563%|
Health Considerations of Nutritional Yeast
While nutritional yeast is a great thing to have on hand for many of us, there are a few concerns that we should mention. Individuals with some conditions should avoid nutritional yeast. For instance, individuals with hypertension, glaucoma, Crohn’s disease, and irritable bowel disease (IBD) should consult with their doctor about adding nutritional yeast to their diet.
Additionally, for individuals who have difficulty metabolizing folic acid or fiber, it might be a good idea to avoid nutritional yeast, use it minimally, or source unfortified nutritional yeast whenever possible.
Also, yeast allergies are present in some of the population, and if you experience an allergy or sensitivity to yeast, you should also avoid nutritional yeast.
How to Use Nutritional Yeast
After hearing about all of the benefits of nutritional yeast, you’re probably wondering how you can bring some home and use it in a recipe! Fortunately for all of us, using nutritional yeast is much easier than you probably think.
While there are several recipes that will call for it specifically, you can easily use nutritional as a topping on all sorts of food. Add it to pasta or chili for a cheesy flavor, sprinkle it on popcorn or veggies, use it in soup for a tasty umami flavor, or supplement sauces or soups with nutritional yeast for a thickener. You can even add it to pet food to supply extra nutrients!
If you’re looking for a more complex culinary creation, you’ll be pleased to know that nutritional yeast is also an essential ingredient in many recipes!
10 Recipes Using Nutritional Yeast
1. Easy Vegan Pesto
We love Minimalist Baker’s recipe for easy vegan pesto. It only takes five minutes, requires very few ingredients (just five!) and, thanks to the pine nuts and the nutritional yeast, each serving contains nearly a gram of protein!
2. The Best Tofu Scramble
If you’ve ever tried tofu scramble without nutritional yeast, you’re missing out! The quick and easy addition transforms tofu scramble from blah to DELICIOUS! If you have a pan and 10 minutes to spare, we recommend checking out Nora Cooks’ recipe for super tasty tofu scramble!
3. Vegan Cauliflower Mac and Cheese
Love & Lemons has made our mouth water with their cauliflower mac and cheese recipe. It’s comfort food without the guilty conscience, and made extra cheesy with the addition of nutritional yeast (add instead of Parmesan cheese).
4. Vegan Queso Dip
Is there anything more delicious than queso?!?! Well, for those of us who want to avoid cow cheese, we can still have something decadent and cheesy. Our favorite recipe (from A Couple Cooks) uses whole, real ingredients—along with nutritional yeast!
5. Vegan Cheddar Jalapeno Biscuits
Minimalist Baker satisfies our cravings for biscuits—but in a much healthier way! These biscuits are great as part of a tasty breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snack. They’re even okay on their own! And their cheesy flavor is all thanks to nutritional yeast.
6. 7 Vegetable and “Cheese” Soup
Nutritional yeast is also the star of the show in this cheese-free recipe from Oh She Glows. Featuring a tasty variety of vegetables, the soup also includes some excellent flavor from nutritional yeast, cayenne pepper, and white wine vinegar. Yum!
7. Walnut, Sage & Cranberry Stuffed Holiday Mushrooms
The holidays have come and gone, but we can still eat like they’re here! These crimini mushroom appetizers are perfect for entertaining and oh so tasty. Check out the recipe from Blissful Basil before your next dinner party!
8. Vegan French Toast
We know, we were also wondering why nooch would end up in french toast… Well, the savory flavor usually found in the eggs is replaced to perfection by nutritional yeast! Breakfast has never been better than with this recipe from Love & Lemons.
9. Vegan Caesar Salad
Bon Appetit is responsible for this caesar salad recipe—one that’s so impressive it will have your non-vegan friends in disbelief that it doesn’t contain any animal products!
10. Vegan Provolone
Craving some perfect, melty, stretchy, delicious cheese?! Allow The Hidden Veggies to help. Their recipe for vegan provolone is one of the best we’ve seen, and nutritional yeast makes it possible.
Top 5 Brands of Nutritional Yeast & Where to Buy
1. Bob’s Red Mill
Bob’s Red Mill is one of the most well-known makers of the vegan magic that is nutritional yeast. This version is fortified—which means that it contains a lot of essential vitamins and minerals, along with fiber and protein. Unlike some other brands, it comes in a large flake form, making it perfect as a topping.
Bragg is another popular brand in the world of nutritional yeast. Their seasoning is also fortified, and is non-GMO. Bragg’s easy-to-sprinkle bottle makes it easy to season your meals with nutritional yeast!
Similar to Bragg, Anthony’s nooch is also fortified and non-GMO. It’s an excellent source of many vitamins and minerals and is low in sodium.
4. Pure Natural
Sari Foods’ Pure Natural Nutritional Yeast is non-fortified and non-synthetic, but still contains plant-based protein and B vitamins!
5. Hoosier Hill
If you’re looking for large flakes, look no further than Hoosier Hill. Their non-GMO nutritional yeast is a perfect addition to any meal and is produced in the USA.
Where to Find in Grocery Stores
Wondering where to get some nutritional yeast of your own? Head to your local natural foods store or health co-op. Even if you don’t have one of those around, you’ll likely be able to find a brand or two at your local grocery store in the health food or organic aisle (especially some of the large chains).
Equipped with recipe ideas and eating tips, nutritional yeast – aka “nooch” – can become a regularly-used seasoning in your home—but it’s actually so much more than just a seasoning. This vegan cheese alternative is packed with essential vitamins and minerals, and low in carbs and fat. Plus, it just tastes great and is perfect for those on a plant-based or dairy-free diet!
If you’re a big fan of nutritional yeast, we’d love to know what you use it for! Drop your favorite recipe in the comments below!
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