What do I do with nutritional yeast?

Nutritional yeast is an ingredient found in many vegan and vegetarian recipes...but what is it?  If you are new to plant-based cooking, you might not have heard of this nutrient-dense condiment that actually tastes like cheese.

While the nutrient content (this type of yeast is rich in several B vitamins, including B12, selenium, zinc and protein) appeals to vegans and vegetarians who are missing the vital B12 from animal sources, it is most likely the taste that sells the product.  It has a smooth, cheesy, somewhat nutty flavor that can enhance both the taste and the satisfaction of dairy-free dishes.  As a salt-free, sugar-free, gluten-free condiment, it seems like a real winner.  A sprinkling of nutritional yeast can add richness to light dishes like soups, salads, whole grain and bean dishes.

A yeast extract made from the single-celled organism, Saccharomyces Cerevisiae, nutritional yeast is harvested grown on molasses and then harvested, washed and dried using heat to deactivate it.  For this reason, nutritional yeast is unlike most other yeasts you may have come across in the past.  It does not froth or grow the way active dry yeast (baking yeast) or brewer's yeast (as used in beer-making) will.  A deactivated (dead) yeast cannot reproduce or infect a human, which is often a concern when people hear the word "yeast."  

While nutritional yeast is gluten-free, anyone with a gluten sensitivity or allergy should check the label, as some factories are guilty of cross-contamination.  I recommend Bragg Nutritional Yeast, or the folic acid-free Kal Nutritional Yeast, as the Bragg contains synthetic folic acid.  While adding folic acid, or synthetic folate, is an attempt to increase nutrient density of the product, there have been studies that indicate high levels of folic acid may be a contributor to breast cancer, (see this study and this one) and so if this is a concern for you, choose the KAL.

If you are ready to give nutritional yeast a try, check out these simple Feeding Your Life recipes:

Cheesy kale chips
Almond cheese salad
Jicama fries