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What is Nutritional Yeast?

Nutritional Yeast: The Ultimate Guide to this Vegan Staple. Learn why nutritional yeast is a beneficial supplement and food seasoning, as well as how to buy and store it.

Nutritional Yeast flakes in a bowl

Nutritional yeast is the vegan and vegetarian’s best flavoring friend! Also known as “nooch” or “hippie dust” (lol), it’s a deactivated species of yeast with a distinctive flavor that provides delicious, savory seasoning. It’s vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, sugar-free, low sodium, high fiber, low-net-carb, and low fat.

(Note that nooch is gluten-free only when grown on a gluten-free medium, such as sugar beet molasses. If you have a gluten allergy, always check the packaging for gluten-free certification.)

What is nutritional yeast?

Nutritional yeast is commonly derived from the species Saccharomyces cerevisiae that has been cultivated on a nutrient-dense medium, such as molasses. It’s harvested, dried, and deactivated with heat. It’s used as a food product and nutritional supplement and is usually sold in flaked or powdered form. Yellowish-beige in color, it has a firm, dry, flaky texture, like dried herbs.

What does nutritional yeast taste like?

Nooch has a nutty, slightly salty flavor that, depending on the brand, leans strongly towards an aged cheese quality. Think, Parmiaggiano or Pecorino, rather than Havarti or Fontina.

How will nutritional yeast help my family?

Nooch is often very helpful in getting new vegans over the hurdle of giving up cheese. When added to vegan versions of foods like sauces and seasonings, it adds a savory cheese flavor that substitutes nicely for the dairy versions.

It’s also usually fortified with vitamin B12 — the one vitamin that vegans and some vegetarians must supplement, as it is not naturally available in non-animal-based foods.

Even if you’re family is not 100% vegetarian or vegan, I would encourage you to experiment with nutritional yeast, because it’s a completely lovely seasoning that will add complexity and character to your cooking.

Where to buy nutritional yeast?

Like many vegan foods, this seasoning is enjoying increasing mainstream popularity, and can now often be found in standard grocery stores, such as Kroger. Whole Foods and Fresh Thyme Market carry it in their bulk bins, which is very handy, so you can buy just what you need.

Nutritional Yeast flakes on a spoon

What brand of nutritional yeast do you use?

Surprisingly, nooch can taste very different from brand to brand, so, if you weren’t impressed on your first try, it’s worth sampling other brands before giving up on it.

There are several well-known companies that sell it, so it should be easy to find across the U.S. Braggs is a popular brand and is available at many mainstream grocery stores, sold in a plastic shaker container. Bob’s Red Mill and Red Star also package nooch in resealable bags and are available in some brick-and-mortar stores or on the brands’ websites.

As mentioned above, health-leaning stores, such as Whole Foods, Fresh Thyme Market, and Sprouts, sell it in the bulk bins section (and sometimes available prepackaged elsewhere in the store). Amazon sells several brands as well, many available as part of Prime. I’ve purchased the Sari Foods brand in the past — good stuff.

I usually buy my nutritional yeast from Whole Foods’ bulk bin section (which is often the Red Star brand), refilling my 1-1/2 cup, airtight storage container every 6 weeks or so.

How do you store nutritional yeast?

Nutritional yeast will last about a year when packed in an airtight bag or container and stored in a cool, dry location (such as the kitchen pantry or a cabinet that’s not above the stove). Frozen, it will last up to two years.

I go through a lot of nooch, so I keep my container right on the kitchen counter, because I’ll use it up long before it could expire. You can see how I store my nutritional yeast IRL in this post about storing food — scroll down to the Seasonings section.

What nutrients does it have?

One serving (about two tablespoons) is considered to be a complete protein, with all nine essential amino acids. It’s is often fortified with B vitamins and iron, making it a great source of B12 for vegans and vegetarians.

Check the packaging to confirm the presence of B vitamins, as some brands, such as Sari, intentionally sell unfortified nutritional yeast for raw food vegans.

Is nutritional yeast the same as baker’s yeast or brewer’s yeast

These three yeasts are often derived from the same strain, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, but they have key differences.

The most important difference between baker’s yeast (or bread yeast) and nooch is that baker’s yeast is fully alive and active, while nutritional yeast has been deactivated (a more polite word for “dead”). Baker’s yeast and nutritional yeast are not interchangeable in recipes, ever.

Brewer’s yeast is also deactivated, but it’s the growing medium that makes it different from nooch: brewer’s yeast is traditionally the byproduct from the brewing industry, and is usually bitter unless altered. Brewer’s yeast is also used as a nutritional supplement, but does not have the cheesy flavoring of nutritional yeast.

Can you bake bread with nooch?

Nooch does not have the same leavening properties as baker’s yeast — nutritional yeast is dead; baker’s yeast is very much alive — so, while you cannot use it to cause bread dough to rise or ferment, you can absolutely use it to add a nutty, cheesy flavor to your baked goods. From cheesy biscuits and quick breads to cheesy crackers — watch out … addictive — nooch deserves a spot in your baker’s pantry.

Is nutritional yeast Whole30, WFPB, and low FODMAP compliant?

Yes, it is!

Nutritional yeast flakes scattered on the counter

How do you use nutritional yeast in recipes?

Use nooch as you would any other seasoning. It does not need to be cooked or heated before using, and dissolves nicely into liquids. Here are but a few ideas for using nooch in your recipes:

  • Sprinkle on popcorn. Yes, this is totally awesome. Especially if you’ve made your popcorn on the stovetop with coconut oil. Hello, movie theater popcorn!
  • Sprinkle on green salads. One of my favorite uses — I do this every day.
  • Sprinkle on sandwiches. I love sandwiches stacked with cucumbers, tomatoes, sweet onions, bell peppers, lettuce, sprinkled with black pepper and nooch, and then drizzled with dijon mustard.
  • Cheese sauces and vegan mac & cheese. This magical hippie dust really shines in creamy sauces. It’s the classic “gateway” sauce that convinces newbies that life will, indeed, still be beautiful, post-cheese. I love cashew cream sauce flavored with nooch, but there are so many scrumptious ways to make creamy, vegan cheesy sauces, including using cauliflower, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, even potatoes.
  • Nacho cheese. Probably my favorite cheese sauce variation — I love the spicy hit of chili peppers.
  • Vegan Parmesan. Nooch’s aged cheese flavor, along with a few seasonings, makes it the perfect substitute for grated or powdered parmesan, sprinkled over pizzas, spaghetti, or salads.
  • Caesar Salad and Caesar Dressing. Its nutty, Parm-like flavors are a must in the vegan version of the classic salad and dressing.
  • Kale chips. If you’ve tried cheezy kale chips from the store, you’ve likely had nutritional yeast. Absolutely delish.
  • Soups. I often use nooch or miso paste in soups when I need an assertive savory note without adding more salt. Bored with your homemade vegetable soup? Add a tablespoon of nooch!
  • Vegan sour cream. I always add a bit of nooch to my homemade sour cream — not for the cheesy flavoring, but because it adds an irresistible complexity. Good stuff!
  • Mashed potatoes. Cheesy mashed potatoes: yes, please!

Nutritional yeast is a must-have ingredient in my kitchen — I hope you’ll try it and see if you and your family don’t love it, too!

Karen xo

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