What is Nutritional Yeast?
If you’re interested in vegetarian or vegan cooking, chances are you’ve heard of nutritional yeast. But what are nutritional yeast flakes, really? It’s an unusual ingredient for casual chefs, to be sure, but it’s a useful one to keep on hand.
Nutritional yeast is deactivated yeast grown specifically as a food product, as opposed to other types of yeast, like brewer’s yeast and baker’s yeast, which have live cells. It provides a cheesy, nutty flavor in cooking. It comes in a few styles, including flakes, granules, and powder. I’ve most often seen it as flakes.
Benefits of Cooking with Nutritional Yeast
Nutritional yeast contains all nine essential amino acids, making it a complete protein (like quinoa). It also contains B vitamins and other trace minerals, such as zinc and manganese. There is some variation in the nutrition content based on the style of yeast you get — that is, whether it’s fortified or unfortified — but the product labels should explain this in more depth.
This food is helpful for those with vegan diets because, in its fortified form, it contains significant amounts of vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is typically only found in animal products. So, if you eat a primarily plant-based diet, this can be a helpful way to get this vitamin.
Beyond this, it contains powerful antioxidants that can help protect cells from damage or environmental toxins. It’s thought that nutritional yeast may even help boost immunity or improve glucose sensitivity in people with type 2 diabetes (research pending).
Where to Find It in the Grocery Store
The first place you’ll want to look when shopping for this particular yeast is in the health food or natural foods section of your grocery store. If it’s not there, it’ll likely be in the baking aisle. I tend to find it near the cornmeal.
Some grocery stores sell it in bulk bins, but I’ve most often seen it in smaller shakers, like a large seasoning bottle.
If you can’t find it at the store, there are plenty of options on Amazon.
Can You Use Nutritional Yeast for Baking?
Because it does not contain live cells, nutritional yeast cannot be used interchangeably with baking yeast.
How to Use Nutritional Yeast in a Plant Based Diet
As a Seasoning
As I mentioned above, nutritional yeast gives off a cheesy, nutty flavor, making it particularly useful as a seasoning for cooking. For example, you could simply sprinkle it over popcorn or prepared meals to add a bit of salty cheesiness to the dish. It even works with roasting vegetables; simply add it to your seasoning medley when you toss vegetables with olive oil to roast!
As a Cheese Substitute
While it won’t give off the creamy texture that cheese would, nutritional yeast does provide a cheesy flavor to cooking, whether you use it in soups, grain dishes, pastas, or sauces.
If you don’t eat cheese, this is a great option, especially with the health benefits described above. If you’re simply trying to reduce your cheese intake (like me), it’s an easy, manageable way to do so.
As a Thickener
While nutritional yeast doesn’t have the creamy quality that cheese would, it does work as a thickening agent, particularly if you use larger amounts of it. If you’re making a soup or sauce and want a nutty flavor and thicker base, try adding in a few tablespoons of it and see what you think!
Plant Based Lifestyle Resources
- Tips for Eating a Plant Based Diet on a Budget
- Affordable Plant Based Protein Sources
- Plant-Based Diet: Microgreens FAQ
- Cooking with Lentils
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