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What Is Nutritional Yeast?

Nutritional yeast is a popular food product that is used as a flavour-enhancing seasoning, particularly in vegetarian and vegan cuisine. It is a type of yeast called Saccharomyces cerevisiae (S .cerevisiae), which is grown on molasses and then deactivated through pasteurization or drying. This deactivation process means that nutritional yeast cannot be used to leaven bread or ferment like active baker’s yeast.

Because of its savoury, cheesy taste, and nutrient profile, nutritional yeast is widely used in vegan and vegetarian cooking as a flavour enhancer and nutritional supplement. It can add depth and richness to various dishes while providing a range of essential nutrients, particularly B vitamins, to those following plant-based diets.

Close up image of nutritional yeast flakes

What Nutrients Are in Nutritional Yeast?

Nutritional yeast is rich in various nutrients, making it a valuable addition to a balanced diet. Here are some of the key nutrients found in nutritional yeast:

  • Protein: Nutritional yeast is an excellent source of complete protein, and it is often used as a protein supplement in vegetarian and vegan diets. It typically contains around 7 to 8 grams of protein per 2 tablespoons.
  • Vitamin B12: Many nutritional yeast brands are fortified with vitamin B12, which is essential for nerve function and the production of red blood cells. This makes nutritional yeast a valuable option for vegans, who may have difficulty obtaining enough B12 from plant-based sources.
  • Folate (Vitamin B9): Nutritional yeast is a good source of folate, which is essential for DNA synthesis and cell growth.
  • Thiamine (Vitamin B1): Nutritional yeast is often fortified with vitamin B1. Thiamine is important for converting food into energy and maintaining proper nerve function. Riboflavin (Vitamin B2): Riboflavin plays a key role in energy production, and nutritional yeast is a good source of this vitamin.
  • Niacin (Vitamin B3): Nutritional yeast provides a significant amount of niacin, which is important for overall health, including skin and nerve health.
  • Pantothenic Acid (Vitamin B5): Vitamin B5, also known as pantothenic acid, is involved in various metabolic processes. It can be found in nutritional yeast.
  • Zinc: Nutritional yeast contains zinc, which is essential for immune function, wound healing, and DNA synthesis.
  • Selenium: Selenium is an important trace mineral with antioxidant properties. Nutritional yeast contains some selenium.
  • Iron: While not a particularly high source of iron, nutritional yeast does provide some of this essential mineral.
  • Dietary Fibre: Nutritional yeast also contains dietary fibre, which helps with digestion and regulating blood sugar levels. You’ll find about 3 to 4 grams of fibre per 3 tablespoons, depending on the brand.
  • Antioxidants: Some nutritional yeast brands contain antioxidants like glutathione, which can help protect cells from damage caused by free radicals.

Nutrition Facts of Nutritional Yeast

Here is a breakdown of the nutrition in 3 tablespoons of Bragg Nutritional Yeast (Available on Amazon):

NutrientAmount per 3 tbspDaily Value (DV)
Protein7.5 g
Fat 0
Carbs4.5 g
Fibre3 g8%
Thiamine (vitamin B1)9.3 mg845%
Riboflavin (vitamin B2)9.5 mg859%
Niacin (vitamin B3)52.5 mg375%
Pyridoxine (vitamin B6)10.8 mg831%
Folate (vitamin B9)529.5 µg132%
Cobalamin (vitamin B12) 22.5 µg938%
Iron1.5 mg8%
Potassium321 mg7%
Sodium30 mg2%
*Daily Value is based on a 1500-calorie diet | Source: Cronometer

How To Use Nutritional Yeast In Cooking?

Using nutritional yeast in cooking is a great way to add a cheesy, nutty flavour to your dishes, particularly if you’re following a vegan or vegetarian diet. From a well-seasoned home chef, here’s a guide on how to use nutritional yeast in cooking:

As a Popcorn Seasoning

One of the easiest ways to use nutritional yeast is as a popcorn topping. For a classic and delicious snack, drizzle melted butter or olive oil over popcorn and then sprinkle on some nutritional yeast. 

As a Parmesan Substitute

Because of its cheesy flavour, nutritional yeast makes a great Parmesan cheese substitute. You can therefore add nutritional yeast to anything you would normally add Parmesan to, such as pasta, presto, roasted veggies, or salad to give your dishes a savoury and cheesy twist.

Pro Tip: To make homemade Parmesan cheese from nutritional yeast, process a cup of unsalted cashews with 2 to 3 tablespoons of nutritional yeast. Add some salt and whatever seasonings you desire (onion powder, garlic powder, Italian seasoning, etc.). To add some extra richness, add half a teaspoon of vegetable oil. Make sure not to over-blend, as you’ll end up with cashew butter. 

In Pesto

Since nutritional yeast makes a great Parmesan substitute, it works great in pesto. Whether it’s to reduce its fat content or substitute the Parmesan cheese altogether, nutritional yeast is a great addition to a homemade pesto.  

To Make Vegan Cheese Sauce

It should come as no surprise that nutritional yeast is a key ingredient in vegan cheese sauce recipes. Combine it with non-dairy milk (like oat or soy milk), plant-based fats (such as vegan butter, vegetable oil, or deodorized coconut oil), and seasonings (garlic powder, onion powder, salt) to create a creamy cheese sauce. Use this sauce for mac and cheese, nachos, or as a dip. To give it a more yellow cheese-like colour, sprinkle in some turmeric. 

In a Tofu Scramble

Similar to black salt, nutritional yeast is an absolute must when it comes to making a tofu scramble taste good. Not only will it enhance the flavour of your scrambled tofu, but it will also add some colour and creamy texture. To give it an even more egg-like appearance, add a sprinkle of turmeric and a splash of dairy-free milk. 

In Creamy Soups and Stews

Stir nutritional yeast into soups, stews, and chilli to enhance their flavour. While it works particularly well in creamy or cheesy soups, it can add flavour and depth to just about any savoury dish. 

In Breadcrumbs

Mix nutritional yeast with breadcrumbs to make a better-seasoned coating for baked or fried foods like breaded tofu, eggplant Parmesan, or cauliflower bites.

Vegan Mac and Cheese

Create a creamy, vegan macaroni and cheese sauce by blending nutritional yeast with cooked potatoes and carrots, soaked cashews, and seasonings like onion and garlic powder. Pour the sauce over some cooked macaroni noodles for an unforgettable dairy-free mac and cheese experience. To add even more richness, mix in some vegan butter cheese shreds. 

Mashed or Baked Potatoes

Want to take your vegan potato dishes to the next level? Mix some nutritional yeast into mashed or baked potatoes to infuse them with some cheesy, umami flavour. 

In Risotto

Since it’s one of the best vegan Parmesan substitutes, nutritional yeast works great in risotto.  Add the nutritional yeast towards the end of the cooking process (as you would Parmesan), for a creamy, cheesy flavour reminiscent of Parmesan. 

Remember that the quantity of nutritional yeast you use can vary depending on the brand and your taste preferences. We recommend starting with a small amount and adjusting the quantity to your liking. 

What Are The Health Benefits of Nutritional Yeast?

Nutritional yeast offers several potential health benefits, which is why it has gained popularity in various diets, including vegan and vegetarian ones. Here are some of the health benefits associated with nutritional yeast:

  • Excellent Source of Vitamins and Minerals: Nutritional yeast is a good source of essential nutrients, including high-quality protein, B vitamins (such as B1, B2, B3, B6, and B12), folate, zinc, selenium, and magnesium. For that reason, vegans often rely on nutritional yeast for their B12 intake. However, since the B vitamins in nutritional yeast can be destroyed by light and heat, we still recommend taking a B12 supplement to make sure you’re getting enough B12 daily.  
  • Supports Nervous System Health: Nutritional yeast is rich in B vitamins that are crucial for nerve health and function. They also play a role in energy metabolism. In most nutritional yeast brands, you’ll find varying amounts of riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, and vitamin B12. 
  • Supports Immune Function: A 2023 study found that the β-Glucans (beta-glucans) derived from S. cerevisiae, the strain of yeast found in nutritional yeast, can help support the immune system. Also, the vitamins and minerals in nutritional yeast, such as zinc and selenium, are important for a healthy immune system.
  • Improves Digestive Health: Nutritional yeast is a good source of dietary fibre, which supports digestive health and regular bowel movements. For example, three tablespoons of Bragg Nutritional Yeast (Available on Amazon) will provide you with 3 grams of fibre, including beta-glucans that can help lower LDL cholesterol.
  • Helps With Weight Management: Nutritional yeast is naturally low in fat and sodium, making it a heart-healthy seasoning choice. A quarter cup of nutritional yeast contains just half a gram of fat and 25 mg of sodium. Nutritional yeast is a low-calorie and nutrient-dense food, making it a good addition to weight management plans.

FAQ on Nutritional Yeast 

Here are some answers to common questions people have about nutritional yeast:

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

No, nutritional yeast is different from brewer’s yeast and baker’s yeast. While all three are strains of Saccharomyces cerevisiae, they are created differently and used for different purposes. Instead of being an active yeast, nutritional yeast is deactivated in its manufacturing process. Instead of being used in baking, it’s used for adding flavour to various savoury recipes. 

Is nutritional yeast gluten-free?

Yes, nutritional yeast is typically gluten-free. However, it’s important to check the product label, as cross-contamination can occur during processing.

How is nutritional yeast made?

Nutritional yeast is made by cultivating yeast on a sugar source (usually molasses), harvesting it, then deactivating it through pasteurization or drying.

What does nutritional yeast taste like?

Nutritional yeast has a nutty, cheesy, and savoury flavour, which makes it a popular cheese substitute in vegan and vegetarian dishes.

How should I use nutritional yeast in cooking?

Nutritional yeast can be used as a topping on popcorn, pasta, and salads, or incorporated into sauces, soups, and casseroles to add a savoury, umami flavour.

Is nutritional yeast a good source of B12?

Most brands of nutritional yeast are fortified with vitamin B12, making it an excellent source of this nutrient for vegans and vegetarians. Just two tablespoons of nutritional yeast can provide you with over 600% of your daily recommended B12 intake. 

How should nutritional yeast be stored?

To ensure its longevity and quality, nutritional yeast should be stored in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight, such as a pantry or cupboard. Seal the container airtight to prevent moisture and air from degrading the product. If you live in a humid environment, consider adding moisture-absorbing packets to the container. Refrigeration or freezing is optional, but can further extend the shelf life of nutritional yeast. 

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