What is Nutritional Yeast? Our Guide to This Mysteriously Delicious Food

A must for vegans everywhere, nutritional yeast – or nooch as some like to call it – is one lesser-known ingredient that could become your dairy-free secret weapon. Nutritional yeast has earned a reputation for being a healthy alternative to Parmesan cheese and adds a nutty flavor profile to any food it graces. You don’t have to be a vegan to enjoy this unique food – it’s the perfect addition to sauces, dressings and much more.

But what is nutritional yeast, really? Is it the same sort of you yeast you can find in bread, or is it something else? Let’s dig in and see.

What is nutritional yeast?

Nutritional yeast is a type of deactivated yeast, unlike typical baker’s yeast which foams up and expands. It’s made from Saccharomyces Cerevisiae, an organism that grows on molasses. It can’t leaven bread like the ‘activated’ variety – plus, baker’s yeast has a notoriously unpleasant flavor.

What does nutritional yeast taste like?

Don’t let the mention of molasses deter you – the flavor isn’t sweet whatsoever. If anything, it’s the complete opposite. Nutritional yeast often gets compared to cheese (like Parmesan), making it a good choice for vegans and those with a lactose intolerance who miss its flavor. The texture, however, is nothing like cheese, so if you want to create a “cheese” sauce, you’ll have to combine the nutritional yeast with other ingredients like cashews to get the desired consistency.

The flavor of nutritional yeast is nutty and savory, almost salty even. It’s got a hint of an umami taste that makes it ideal for soups and dishes that need a little extra oomph. Nutritional yeast has a lovely yellow color and smells cheesy and earthy, kind of like the smell of bulk foods section of your favorite health foods store. (Is it just us or does anyone else love that smell!?) The only way to know you’ll like it is to try it for yourself and see what nutritional yeast is all about.

nutritional yeast benefits

What is nutritional yeast used for?

Why bother trying nutritional yeast if you already like (and can eat) cheese? One word: Nutrition! If the name doesn’t already give it away, nutritional yeast is really healthy. Some people like using it because it’s high in protein and fiber while relatively low in calories. Others, who may not be able to eat cheese because of dietary concerns, like enjoying nutritional yeast as a lactose-free flavor enhancer.

Nutritional yeast benefits

Other than tasting delicious and having a cheesy flavor, you may still be wondering what all the fuss is about.

For starters, nutritional yeast is…

  • Protein-rich. Just one tablespoon amounts to between 2-4 grams of protein, depending on the brand. Best of all, it’s a complete protein, meaning it contains all nine of the essential amino acids you need to get from your diet.
  • High in trace minerals. Nutritional yeast contains significant amounts of trace minerals including zinc, selenium, manganese and molybdenum. Why does it matter? It’s because trace minerals are essential for our bodily functions, including supporting the blood system and acting as building blocks for a multitude of enzymes.
  • Gluten-free. Thankfully, nutritional yeast is entirely gluten-free, so interfere with wheat allergies. Be sure to check the packaging of your nutritional yeast just to be safe – sometimes cross contamination can happen in facilities that aren’t gluten-free certified.
  • Full of B vitamins. This is particularly important for vegetarians, as it can sometimes be challenging to get B vitamins on a plant-based diet without taking supplements. In one tablespoon of nutritional yeast, you’ll get between 30-180 percent of your recommended daily intake of B vitamins.

Nutritional yeast uses

Once you taste nutritional yeast, you’ll realize just how endless the possibilities are. The versatile flavor makes it an excellent flavor enhancer that can jazz up any savory dish.

Need some ideas? Check out some of our favorite ways to use nutritional yeast:

  • Store it in alongside your condiments and sprinkle it on food just like how you would use salt.
  • Give your lentils, beans or soup a creamy consistency by stirring a tablespoon or two into your dish.
  • Sprinkle on top of roasted veggies to bring out their flavors.
what is nutritional yeast

Nutritional yeast recipes

Popcorn with nutritional yeast

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 Tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 oz (30 grams) popcorn kernels (uncooked)
  • 1 Tbsp nutritional yeast

Directions:

  1. Add the coconut oil into a medium metal pot and set the temperature to medium-high heat. Place three individual kernels into the pot and cover.
  2. Once you hear them pop, uncover the pot and add the rest of the kernels in a single layer on in the pot.
  3. Cover and shake the pot a little bit to cover all the kernels with oil.
  4. Once you hear it pop intensely, shake the pot every 15 seconds to help the unpopped kernels pop and prevent the popcorn from burning.
  5. When you can’t hear any more popping, uncover the pot and put the popcorn into a bowl.
  6. Sprinkle on the nutritional yeast while shaking the popcorn so that it covers the popcorn. You can also add a pinch of salt if you wish.
  7. Serve and enjoy!

Nutritional yeast salad dressing

This recipe comes from the folks over at Simple Vegan Blog. We love the simplicity of it! This recipe makes about 3-4 servings.

Ingredients:

  • 4 Tbsp tahini
  • 4 Tbsp water
  • 4 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 4 Tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • black pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Place all of the ingredients in a bowl and stir until thoroughly mixed. You can also use a blender!
  2. Store in the fridge for up to 5-7 days.

Get cooking

If after learning what nutritional yeast is, you want to incorporate it into every meal, sign up for 8fit Pro to get some inspiration. You’ll find over 700 recipes that use healthy, simple ingredients that are a breeze to make. Plus, if you’re vegan, you’ll find a range of recipes that are both delicious and nutritionist-approved. See you in the kitchen!