For vegans and vegetarians especially and health nuts in general, nutritional yeast is a condiment of choice. It’s sprinkled on popcorn and added to salad dressings, casseroles, mashed potatoes, and dips. It has a rich, cheesy and savory flavor that adds depth to dishes that don't contain dairy, amongst other less-than-healthy ingredients. It’s a staple ingredient in the bulk food section of health foods store and has been for decades, but what is it really? And are there nutritional yeast benefits?
What is Nutritional Yeast?
Nutritional yeast is made from an organism called Saccharomyces Cerevisiae. It’s grown on molasses and then heated to deactivate the yeast. Vegans love it because it doesn't contain any animal products. Nutritional yeast comes from plants and is actually a member of the fungi family. It’s a flaky, yellow powder that's loaded with flavor. (Don't confuse it with brewer’s yeast, which has a bitter flavor and is used in beer production.)
Nutritional Yeast Benefits
The most important health benefit of nutritional yeast is that it contains 6 grams of vitamin B12 per serving. B12, also called cobalamin, is a water-soluble vitamin that’s important for brain and nervous system function as well as the formulation of red blood cells. Nutritional yeast is the only plant-based source of the vitamin, which is usually found in animal-based foods like fish, shellfish, meat (especially organ meat), poultry, liver, eggs, milk, and milk products. Chlorella, found in algae, actually contains a form of B12, but it’s unclear whether it can actually be absorbed into the body.
But, that’s just the beginning. A quarter cup serving contains the full spectrum of B vitamins. And since B vitamins are highly represented in nutritional yeast, it’s worth exploring their role in the body. They serve as the body’s fuel, keeping you energized throughout the day. They also help promote healthy skin and stave off memory loss. At just 60 calories, the nutrient density is pretty stellar:
- 790 percent Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of thiamine (B1)
- 570 percent RDA of riboflavin (B2)
- 300 percent RDA of B6
- 230 percent RDA of niacin (B3)
- 290 percent RDA of B12
- 270 percent RDA of folate
- 20 percent RDA of zinc
- 16 percent RDA of fiber
- 9 grams of protein
Nutritional Yeast Uses
With its cheesy, nutty, and savory flavor, nutritional yeast tastes great sprinkled on so many foods. Its uses are endless:
- Steamed kale or other leafy greens
- Kale chips
- Tofu scrambles
- Vegan gratins
- Salad dressing
The list could go on and on, but you get the point. That said, let’s get to the good stuff: nutritional yeast recipes.
Nutritional Yeast Recipes
3-Ingredient Vegan Mac and Cheese Recipe
Image of mac and cheese via Shutterstock
One pound whole wheat macaroni noodles or noodle of choice
3/4 cup nutritional yeast
2 tbsp. olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook noodles according to package directions.
2. In a separate bowl, mix together yeast, olive oil, and slowly pour in some of the boiling noodle water, a tablespoon at a time.
3. For a thicker sauce, add less water, and if you like it thinner, add more water. You can also add in a few splashes of unsweetened nondairy milk and nondairy butter to up the creaminess.
4. Once the noodles are cooked, drain and toss with the sauce. Season and serve!
Options: You can add steamed and smashed carrots, sweet potatoes, cauliflower, or squash to your sauce mixture. This is especially helpful for kids who don’t eat enough veggies. Simply steam your vegetables until soft, mash and mix with the yeast, oil, and water. Orange foods up the sauce color and add sweetness too. Kids love it.
Mashed Cauliflower with Roasted Garlic and Chives
Image of cauliflower via Shutterstock
1 large cauliflower, broken into florets
2 big cloves roasted garlic
2 tbsp. nutritional yeast
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. fresh chives, chopped
Salt and pepper to the taste.
1. Boil cauliflower in enough water to cover the florets for around 8 minutes. Drain in a colander.
2. Add back to the same pot (removed from heat). Using a potato masher, thoroughly mash the cauliflower.
3. Add garlic, nutritional yeast, olive oil, chives, and season with salt and pepper. Place cauliflower in a large pot and fill with just enough water to cover the florets.
Recipe adapted from Vegangela.
Tofu Popcorn “Chicken”
Image of tofu via Shutterstock
1 block firm or extra firm tofu
⅓ cup chickpea/garbanzo flour
¼ cup nutritional yeast
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. all purpose Cajun seasoning
1 tsp. garlic powder
½ tsp. pepper
⅓ - ½ cup water
1 tbsp. wet mustard (any kind: dijon, wholegrain etc)
3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1. Drain tofu and place in a towel for a few minutes to absorb remaining liquid. Place a heavy book or cast iron skillet on top of the tofu to further drain the liquid.
2. Combine dry ingredients and then slowly add water until the mixture has the consistency of pancake batter.
3. Add mustard to the mixture. Chop the tofu into 2 to 3 inch chunks and coat with the batter.
4. Heat the oil to medium and add tofu a few pieces at a time, being careful not to overcrowd the pan.
5. Cook on all sides until golden brown, adding oil as needed. Serve with mashed potatoes and collards or with a simple dipping sauce. This is a versatile and easy way to put leftover tofu to use in your kitchen.
Recipe adapted from Happy Healing.
Best Nutritional Yeast Brands and Storage
I’m always a fan of Bragg Nutritional Yeast Seasoning because it's gluten-free, salt-free, and kosher. Plus, I’m familiar with the brand and its other products. But I also like Now Foods Nutritional Yeast Flakes. Both are non-GMO, unsweetened, and free of additives. In terms of storage, nutritional yeast has a shelf life of about a year if it’s sealed and stored in a cool, dry place.
Have you tried nutritional yeast? Do you love it? What are your favorite nutritional yeast recipes? Let us know via Twitter @OrganicAuthorit
Image of nutritional yeast via Shuttershock