One of the latest ingredients embraced by chefs nationwide is nutritional yeast, a seasoning that adds cheesy, nutty, umami flavor—not unlike like the parmesan cheese in a shaker can, but a little richer and rounder.
It’s naturally low in calories and sodium, and is fat-free, gluten-free, sugar-free and vegan.
It’s growing in popularity to the point where Datassential, which monitors trends at restaurants nationwide, notes a 40% growth in menu mentions of nutritional yeast over the past year [source].
Nutritional yeast, casually known by its street name, “nooch,” is a way for cooks to deliver a nutritious punch of flavor.
It has long been used in vegan cooking: combined with a purée of cashews and seasonings to create a vegan cheese, or as a topping for pastas, salads and soups.
But its use is not limited to vegan or any other diet. Its umami quality makes nutritional yeast a flavor and nutrition boon for vegans, vegetarians and meat-eaters alike (here’s the difference between vegans, vegetarians, flexitarians and and other restrictive diets).
Nutritional yeast is sold as flakes, granules or powder and can be found in natural and health food stores.
It not only delivers a big boost of flavor; it also supplies the nutrition its name promises: all nine essential amino acids, B vitamins and multiple trace minerals.
The only problem with nutritional yeast is its name. To us, “nutritional yeast” sounds like something for people with anemia. Now you know better.
WHAT IS NUTRITIONAL YEAST?
There are three types of yeast that are technically made from the same yeast species, Saccharomyces cerevisiae. But are used for very different purposes.
Baker’s yeast is purchased alive and used to leaven bread. It adds an earthy, yeasty flavor to bread. The yeast is killed during baking.
Brewer’s yeast is also purchased alive, and is necessary to brew beer. They also die during the process. Some people consume the dead yeast as a nutritional supplement, but it is very bitter.
Nutritional yeast is grown specifically as an ingredient for cooking. The yeast cells are nonactive: They die during manufacturing and so the final product is dead yeast. It is used in cooking and has a cheesy, nutty or savory flavor.
Now to add on another layer of information:
There are two types of nutritional yeast, fortified and unfortified.
Fortified nutritional yeast, the most commonly available, contains added synthetic vitamins to boost nutrient content. You will see them included in the ingredients list.
Unfortified nutritional yeast does not contain added vitamins or minerals: only the vitamins and minerals that are naturally produced by the yeast cells as they grow.
HOW TO USE NUTRITIONAL YEAST
You can use nutritional yeast as a seasoning for foods that can use the cheesy, nutty, umami flavor it delivers.
Vegans use it as a primary ingredient to create plant-based cheese alternatives. If you’re lactose-intolerant, kosher, or otherwise avoiding dairy products, you can use it here.
Add it to stir-frys.
Breakfast: add to avocado toast, in scrambles and atop other eggs, in plain yogurt and cottage cheese.
Combine it with your usual seasonings and herbs into a rub or marinade.
Garnish cooked vegetables; grains, bowls and risottos; mix into mashed potatoes.
Mix it into dips, gravies and sauces.
Use it in salad dressing. One idea: apple cider vinegar and oil plus, nutritional yeast, coconut aminos* and garlic.
Sprinkle atop of casseroles, popcorn, salads, soups.
Ditto with chicken wings, loaded fries and potato skins, pasta and pizza.
So go ahead: Kick it up a nooch.
*Coconut aminos is a salty, savory seasoning sauce made from the fermented sap of coconut palm and sea salt. You can buy it at health food stores and online.
 Nutritional yeast (photo © Bhofack2 | iStock Photo).
 Avocado toast and eggs sprinkled with nutritional yeast (photo © Vincent Rivaud |Pexels
 Penne rigate with mushrooms in olive oil sauce, sprinkled with nutritional yeast (photo © Engin Akyurt | Pexels).
 Buddha bowl (photo © Kween).