Affectionately called “nooch” by those who love it, nutritional yeast is a valued staple in plant-based cuisine. This guide to nutritional yeast will tempt you to eat more of it, and show you how to use it in lots of tasty ways.
Instantly adding a rich, cheesy flavor to everything it touches, omnivores soon got hip to the trend too. What was once an odd health food find is now widely available and continually growing in popularity.
Something about those golden yellow flakes makes them utterly irresistible, showing up in vegan recipes long before dairy-free Parmesan was even a hazy dream.
What is Nutritional Yeast and Where Did It Come From?
Though nutritional yeast seems to have appeared out of nowhere in the past couple of decades, it’s been around since the time of the ancient Egyptians. Some of the earliest records document their experiments using active yeast to leaven bread, but nutritional yeast is distinctly different from this strain. There are two types of yeast that evolved from this process:
- Brewer’s yeast is grown from hops, which is a by-product of brewing beer. While it can be safely consumed by itself, it’s rather bitter and unpalatable.
- Nutritional yeast, on the other hand, is fermented on sugar cane or beet molasses. It’s then heat-treated to become inactive, meaning you can’t use it to make bread.
American chemist Atherton Seidell can be first credited with discovering the health benefits of brewer’s yeast in 1916, only five years after the word “vitamin” had been coined. As a waste product found abundantly throughout the thriving breweries, it was one of the most affordable and accessible ways to treat nutritional deficiencies such as scurvy and beriberi.
Flying under the radar for many more years, it wasn’t until the hippie movement of the 1960s sought healthier alternatives to conventional animal products. Nutritional yeast, grown specifically as a food product, had a much more compelling taste, thanks to abundant natural glutamates, which create “umami,” otherwise known as savory flavor.
How to Buy and Store Nutritional Yeast
Most well-stocked supermarkets and natural foods stores stock nutritional yeast, either in the superfood/supplement section, bulk bins, or in the refrigerator case near plant-based cheeses and other dairy-free items.
The flavor, nutrition, and quality can vary between brands; there are large flakes, granules, and fine powder; enriched and plain; dark mustard and canary yellow. What’s best comes down to personal preference, so try various options to find your favorite.
Buying in bulk is the most cost-effective, even if it doesn’t seem like it at a glance. Priced at anywhere from $15 to $25 per pound, the flakes are incredibly light, so even a quarter pound can last a long time.
It’s probably most convenient to buy packaged nutritional yeast, which ensures its freshness. There are a number of good brands to choose from, including Bragg, Red Star, Bob’s Red Mill, and Frontier Co-op.
No matter how you purchase it, always store nutritional yeast in a dry, airtight container in a dark, cool place. Thought it’s unlikely to spoil or become rancid, it’s best to refrigerate it.
Nutritional Yeast Nutrition Notes
Naturally rich in protein and fiber, nutritional yeast is regarded as one of the tastiest supplements you can add to a vegan diet. ¼ cup has 8 grams of protein. It’s also a good source of thiamine, riboflavin, potassium, calcium, and iron.
Many brands go further to add B-12 to the finished product, boosting its nutritional value substantially (check labels). B-12 is especially rare in plant-based foods, vegans can benefit from adding nutritional yeast to their arsenal of pantry staples. Here’s a complete nutritional profile of nutritional yeast.
Basic Ways to Use Nutritional Yeast
Ready to eat as packaged, nutritional yeast can simply be sprinkled straight over prepared dishes to taste.
- Some cooks like to mix it with herbs and spices for a more nuanced seasoning blend, but it’s great as-in over popcorn, baked potatoes, pasta, and more.
- In the lowest quantity, the subtle nuances of nutritional yeast have a surprisingly buttery flavor, which makes it a great ingredient in savory custards, spreads, and batters.
- When combined with tofu and black salt, it takes on a distinctly eggy flavor, creating a convincing plant-based scramble.
- In larger quantities, the cheesy aspect of nutritional yeast comes to the fore, transforming plain nuts, seeds, and plant milk into incredible cheese sauces and even sliceable blocks.
- It adds body and flavor to dips, sauces, spreads, and gravies.
Find lots more ideas and recipes, following.
Nutritional Yeast Serving Suggestions and Recipes
Dairy-free cheese: Sliceable, shreddable, and meltable vegan cheese is right at your fingertips with this powerful party starter on hand. Most recipes use a base of raw nuts thickened with starches to take shape, but plenty of allergen-free formulas exist, employing everything from potatoes to cauliflower. Give this Vegan Provolone recipe a go. And there are many other homemade cheeses to browse through on the vegan web.
Easiest Plant Parmesan: No need to buy vegan Parmesan if you keep nooch and almond flour on hand. Simply combine 2/3 cup almond flour with 1/3 cup nutritional yeast in a small bowl. Add a pinch of salt and stir well to combine. Sprinkle over pastas, casseroles, grain dishes, and soups. An airtight container in the fridge will keep this almost indefinitely (though you can be sure you won’t make it last indefinitely!).
Dips & Spreads: Nutritional yeast is a key ingredient in many plant-based dips and spread, adding cheesy flavor and heft. Two to tempt you: Smoky Vegan Cheddar Cheesy Dip or Sauce and Nacho Hummus.
Good gravy: Nooch makes vegan gravy better! See Easy Vegan Mushroom Gravy.
Good-for-you snack ingredient: Nutritional yeast makes snacking worthwhile! It’s become well known as a popcorn embellishment just as is or with a little extra (Nooch Popcorn Seasoning) and really adds a certain something to kale chips (30-Minute Cheesy Kale Chips).
Vegan Queso: An easy win for anyone first trying nutritional yeast, a rich, cheesy, and spicy sauce or dip is within reach for even novice cooks. Blend raw cashews with water and a generous handful of nutritional yeast until smooth before heating through. Add a generous dollop of your favorite salsa, and you’re ready for a fiesta! 5-Minute Cashew Queso is an easy recipe to try.
Mac and cheese: Everyone’s favorite childhood comfort food is back on the table again. The easiest solution is to simply melt down vegan butter and stir in nutritional yeast until smooth. Season with salt and toss in al dente pasta. You can get a much more complex flavor from additional seasoning, but even the basics alone are highly satisfying. See Vegan Stove-Top Mac and Cheese.
Souped-up soups: Nooch is especially welcome in smooth and/or “cheesy” vegan soups. Enjoy this Vegan Cream of Broccoli Soup.
Eggless egg dishes: Brunch like a boss with this not-so-secret ingredient for realizing all your eggless dreams — just add a couple of tablespoons to eggless omelets, tofu scrambles, plant-based frittatas, and more. Always pair with kala namak, otherwise known as “black salt,” for that essential sulfurous taste. Here are a couple of eggless examples: Skillet Vegetable and Chickpea Flour Frittatas and Vegan Chickpea Deviled Tomatoes.
Pesto: Replace conventional Parmesan cheese with nooch in your favorite pesto recipe for instant dairy-free gratification. As in this Simple Vegan Pesto, the secret ingredient is indeed nutritional yeast.
Contributed by Hannah Kaminsky: Hannah has developed an international following for her delicious recipes and mouthwatering food photography at the award-winning blog BitterSweet. Passionate about big flavors and simple techniques, she’s the author of Vegan Desserts, Vegan à la Mode, Easy as Vegan Pie, Real Food, Really Fast, Sweet Vegan Treats, The Student Vegan Cookbook, Super Vegan Scoops, and The Everyday Vegan Cheat Sheet Pan. Visit Hannah at BittersweetBlog.com.
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Nutritional yeast lives up to its name, for sure, but it’s easy to forget just how versatile it is. This piece goes a long way in reaffirming this. Great write-up!