Nutritional Yeast Isn’t Just for Hippies and Vegans

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Kelli Foster)

Nutritional yeast isn’t anything new. I first heard about it a handful of years ago while reading food blogs that focused on living a healthy lifestyle (that’s me). But these blogs were largely written by staunch vegetarians and vegans, many who seemed to have a crunchy, hippie vibe (not me at all!).

I was quick to move on, but it seemed like nutritional yeast just kept popping up in more and more recipes. Based on its name alone, I was not sold. There’s just something about sprinkling something yeasty on my food that felt totally unappealing. Looking at it only made matters worse; it looks like fish food flakes. But as quick as I was to dismiss nutritional yeast as an ingredient that had no place in my kitchen, I recently had a drastic change of heart.

What Is Nutritional Yeast?

Nutritional yeast, sometimes referred to as “nooch,” is deactivated yeast sold in two forms: flakes and powder. It has a strong, savory, umami-like flavor that’s cheesy and nutty. It’s commonly used and praised, especially among vegans, as a cheese substitute.

While once reserved for health food stores, you can now find nutritional yeast on the shelves and in the bulk bins at most well-stocked grocery stores.

(Image credit: Kelli Foster)

Is It Like the Yeast Used to Make Bread?

Not exactly. Nutritional yeast is an inactive yeast made from sugar cane and beet molasses. It’s distinct from the active yeasts used in bread making in that it doesn’t have the ability to leaven. So just as you can’t use this in place of active yeast to make bread, I don’t recommend using active yeast in place of nutritional yeast.

Cooking with Nutritional Yeast

When it comes to using nutritional yeast, think of it and use it as a seasoning and condiment. You can use it in any recipe where you might otherwise use cheese. It has all the delicious benefits of cheese, minus any actual cheese.

The first time I used nutritional yeast was in a batch of cheesy kale chips. To say I was skeptical is an understatement, but I was quickly surprised by its flavor and curious to try it in more recipes.

Nutritional yeast is magical sprinkled on freshly popped popcorn. Once you go there, don’t be surprised if you never go back — and that’s totally okay. Nutritional yeast also tastes great on potatoes — mashed, roasted, or baked, they’re all better with a little nutritional yeast. Mix it in or sprinkle it on top of pasta; don’t even get me started on how good it is in mac and cheese. Add it to your salad, use it in dips, whisk it into scrambled eggs, or use it as a coating for fried tofu.

While it’s a perfect way for vegans to get their fill of cheesy flavor, I can attest that you certainly do not have to be vegan to eat nutritional yeast on everything. What do you like to eat it with?