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Nutritional yeast is a food additive popular in vegetarian and vegan dishes, yet can be used when cooking with meat as well.

It’s a deactivated yeast that adds texture and flavor to meals while also being full of nutrients such as B12 and essential dietary protein.

Learn more about nutritional yeast below so you can start using it for more flavor packed dishes in your kitchen, or to boost your vitamin and mineral levels.

What is nutritional yeast?

Nutritional Yeast
Image Source: Marco Verch via Flickr CC BY 2.0

Nutritional yeast is a food additive made from Saccharomyces Cerevisiae, which is grown on molasses (it responds well to a sugar-rich environment) over days and then harvested, washed, and then deactivated by heating.

The yeast cells are killed during manufacturing and not alive in the final product.

Nutritional yeast is grown to be a food-specific product despite being related to brewer’s yeast and baker’s yeast.

Because it’s inactive, nutritional yeast doesn’t make foods rise like baker’s yeast. It’s also different from brewer’s yeast, which is a product of the beer-making process and is very bitter.

There are two types; unfortified nutritional yeast only contains naturally produced vitamins and minerals, so it suits those looking for flavor benefits.

Fortified nutritional yeast is the type used most commonly for those wanting a dietary supplement, as it has synthetic vitamins added to boost the nutrient content. Any additions to the yeast will be clearly labeled on the packaging’s ingredients list.

Why use nutritional yeast?

rye-pasta with added nutritional yeast
Image by Melanie Rodriguez from Pixabay

Nutritional yeast is definitely healthy and useful, but the bottom line is it’s an exceptional flavor enhancer.

Its flavor profile might be described as a combination of cheesy, nutty, and savory accents. Many chefs and cooks use the Japanese term “umami” to describe nutritional yeast. Umami, one of the five central flavors, is the savory taste attached to fermented products and meat.

A small amount of nutritional yeast (1-2 tablespoons) is perfect for broths, soups, and gravy sauces, even the meat-centric ones.

Larger amounts are perfect for scrambled “eggs” or “cheese sauces.”

With a name like nutritional yeast it has to be packed with vitamins and minerals needed for a healthy and balanced diet. The most common include:

  • B-vitamins (B12 is the important one needed for plant based foods, but there’s B6, niacin thiamin, and riboflavin)
  • Protein
  • Folic acid
  • Selenium
  • Zinc
  • Molybdenum
  • Manganese

Nutritional yeast also contains the powerful antioxidants glutathione and selenomethionine, which help eliminate toxins and protect your cells from free radicals and heavy metals.

Nutritional yeast is low in fat, and most brands are gluten-free. There are no added sugars or preservatives.

Where can I buy nutritional yeast?

Trader Joe's Nutritional Yeast
Image Source: theimpulsivebuy via Flickr CC BY SA 2.0

Nutritional yeast is widely available. It can be found in most large grocery chains in the natural foods section, but short of that, you’ll find it at your local health food store or widely available online.

While most brands use nutritional yeast on the label and packaging, some are marketed as vegetarian or vegan savory supplements or yeast seasoning.

You can purchase nutritional yeast in flake, granule, or powder form, with flaked nutritional being the most popular. If you’re using the powder, you will need only about half as much as the flakes.

Conclusion

Nutritional yeast is a versatile option for adding flavor and depth of taste to many vegetarian/vegan dishes, and some meat ones too. Not only is it a great flavor additive, but it’s also packed with nutrients that are good for your overall health.