Nutritional Yeast in a Vegan Diet

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Nutritional Yeast. Photo Credit: Allyson Kramer

One ingredient that you most likely come across while looking at vegan recipes is nutritional yeast. Fairly obscure to most who are unfamiliar with a plant-based diet, nutritional yeast is a staple ingredient for vegans, as it lends a slightly nutty, and mildly cheesy, flavor to many dishes. Typically located in the supplement or bulk sections of most natural foods stores, nutritional yeast—as the name implies—is also chock full of nutrients.

It is available in two varieties, fortified and unfortified, but fortified is the most commonly sold variety in the United States. Other names for nutritional yeast are: nooch, yeshi, Brufax, or savoury yeast flakes.

Nutritional yeast is high in B-complex vitamins (oftentimes fortified with B-12) and on average 2 tablespoons provides about 4 grams of fiber, 8 grams of protein, and is a complete protein--meaning that it provides us with 9 amino acids. Many vegans use fortified nutritional yeast, which provides the daily-recommended amount of B12, which is usually scarce in a vegan diet. Fortified nutritional yeast is also a good source of selenium, potassium, folate, and iron.

Nutritional yeast should not be confused with Brewer’s Yeast, which is a different foodstuff entirely. Shelf stable, nutritional yeast keeps well if stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry area. It can be used as a condiment, such as in topping popcorn or pasta, as one may use Parmesan cheese, or as a base for cheesy sauces and dips.

Nutritional yeast--generally different than the strain used for brewing or baking--is grown on a medium, made of glucose that has been dervied from sugarcane or beets. The yeast is grown on this medium for a few days and then de-activated (killed) and harvested. Before packaging the yeast must first be washed and dried.

Sold as flakes or powder, either variety can be used in recipes calling for nutritional yeast.

Using nutritional yeast in recipes is quite simple as it can easily be added to sauces, dips, and marinades for an extra burst of cheesy flavor. Often a favorite ingredient in Vegan Mac and Cheese, tofu scrambles, and vegan Queso dips, many times, turmeric will be also added to a recipe calling for nutritional yeast to add a slightly orange coloring—which works great for cheesy sauces and spreads. Another great application is to mix with panko bread crumbs when coating foods, such as tofu or tempeh, or sprinkle a bit on top of bread cubes and toast for easy croutons for salads. Including just 2 tablespoons a day can help vegans incorporate important nutrients in their diets, so having a canister of this wonder food around is a good way to ensure you’ll get that extra nutritional boost.