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What the Heck Is Nutritional Yeast and Why Should I Use It?

Food

When I first joined the plant-based community, I kept hearing about this mysterious substance called nutritional yeast. I found it in the bulk bins at my local grocery store and I bought a few scoops of the flaky, yellow substance. The next step: learning what the heck to do with it.

Nutritionally, this yeast contains folic acid, selenium, zinc and protein and it is often fortified with vitamin B12. Photo credit: Shutterstock

First of all, what exactly is nutritional yeast? Affectionately known as “nooch” in the plant-based community, nutritional yeast, often a strain of saccharomyces cerevisiae, is a deactivated yeast in powder or flake form that is sold commercially as a food product. It is grown on molasses and then harvested, washed and dried with heat to kill or “deactivate” it. Nutritionally, this yeast contains folic acid, selenium, zinc and protein, and it is often fortified with vitamin B12.

It is not the same as other yeasts, such as brewer’s yeast and should not be substituted for any other type. Though it can’t help you bake a loaf of bread, nutritional yeast makes an excellent vegan cheese substitute, as it a has a nutty, somewhat umami flavor.

So how can you use this plant-based powerhouse? There are a multitude of uses, but these 10 should get you started.

1. Pasta Pick-Me-Up

Nooch can be used in place of parmesan cheese as a pasta topping.

2. Make Super Soup 

Just a tablespoon or two of nutritional yeast enriches any soup or gravy, adding a nice depth of flavor.

3. Whip Up a “Cheese” Sauce

For those who don’t tolerate dairy well, nutritional yeast is an excellent base for a “cheesy” sauce. There are a ton of recipes on the web and finding your favorite is just a process of experimentation.

4. Pretend Parmesan on Pizza

Like with pasta, nooch can be used in the place of parmesan cheese on pizza. Sprinkle it on extra liberally if you plan to skip the mozzarella, too.

5. Make Your Salad Sing

Using nutritional yeast in salad dressings gives them a rich, creamy flavor without the actual cream. For a quick and easy dressing, add some nooch to equal parts apple cider vinegar and olive oil, plus some garlic and a little salt.

6. Bread Crumbs, Be Gone

Nutritional yeast makes an excellent binder, which means you can substitute it in any recipe you want to make gluten-free or carb-free.

7. Next-Level Kale Chips

You don’t have to buy prepackaged kale chips—you can also make them in a dehydrator, or bake them in the oven at a very low temperature. A nooch-based marinade gives kale chips an extra rich flavor.

8. Take Tofu Up a Notch

On the weekends, I like to spend a little time in the kitchen and splurge by making a big brunch. Scrambled tofu is a favorite. Adding a couple tablespoons of nutritional yeast just prior to serving gives it a beautiful creaminess and richness of flavor.

9. A Popcorn Partner

Organic popcorn with melted vegan buttery spread and lots of nutritional yeast? Better than movie theatre popcorn.

10. Great “Cheese” Grits

Grits are a Southern staple—and can even be vegan, though they’re traditionally served with tons of butter and cheese. Instead of the dairy products, make your grits with vegan buttery spread, salt and nutritional yeast.

These are just ten of the hundreds of ways to use nutritional yeast. Stock up and start experimenting.

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