Have your clients been asking you about nutritional yeast? Well, that’s a good thing! There’s much to love about “nooch”—the affectionate term for nutritional yeast, the plant-based essential that adds savory flavor and a nutritious kick to recipes. If it’s not already a go-to ingredient in your kitchen, consider bringing this staple, with its signature burst of umami flavor, into your culinary world so you can explore its versatility and better guide your clients’ quest for healthful ingredients.
What Is It?
Flaky, golden nutritional yeast is derived from baker’s and brewer’s yeast, but instead of using it to make leavened foods, like pizza and bread—heat during processing inactivates its leavening activity—nutritional yeast is processed into a beneficial meal enhancer packed with a powerful punch of nutrients.
How Is It Produced?
To produce nutritional yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae (a type of yeast) cells are grown alongside a growing medium that’s high in sugar, such as molasses. Once the yeast is mature, it’s heated up to deactivate the yeast (which inhibits its leavening properties), then it’s washed and dried into ready-to-eat flakes.
What Are the Health Benefits?
Nutritional yeast won’t make bread rise, but it can increase nutrient intake—the B vitamins, in particular. Plus, it tastes like cheese, so it’s the perfect plant-based flavor seasoning for those craving that savory flavor, without the saturated fat or sodium. It’s excellent for vegans and vegetarians and those who want to increase their vitamin B intake through diet, rather than supplements.
A two-tablespoon serving of nutritional yeast contains all eight of the B vitamins and well over 100% of the recommended DV of five (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, vitamin B12) of them. Especially notable is that it’s an excellent source of vitamin B12, which is only available naturally from animal sources, making it especially useful for vegans and vegetarians, who are otherwise unable to acquire this B vitamin in their diets from food sources. Nutritional yeast packs 130% of the B vitamin folate, which is crucial during pregnancy to prevent neural tube defects, into that same single serving. Vitamin B12 and folate also are important in blood cell proliferation and development, which helps prevent anemia. Overall, the B vitamins are involved in numerous metabolic and neurological functions throughout the body, including the breakdown of macronutrients into energy, metabolizing amino acids, and maintaining healthy nerve cells. A lack of B vitamins can lead to mood instability and depression.
Nutritional yeast also is a good source of dietary fiber, protein, and zinc. A single two-tablespoon serving contains 4 g (16% DV) dietary fiber, which has been shown to lower cholesterol and help maintain healthy blood sugar levels, especially valuable for people at risk of or who have diabetes. That same serving packs 8 g of filling protein (16% DV), important for maintaining and building muscle, and 20% DV of immunity-protecting zinc.
Check out my top five ways to use nutritional yeast in the kitchen as an educational tool to guide your clients’ plant-based eating style.
Top 5 Ways to Use Nutritional Yeast
1. Make plant-based cheese. Blend up homemade plant-based cheese in mere minutes with nutritional yeast and just two more ingredients. In a blender or food processor, add a cup of raw cashews, 2 T nutritional yeast, and salt to taste. Grind until it has the texture of Parmesan cheese, and that’s it. Store in a glass jar and refrigerate up to three months. Sprinkle it on favorites like popcorn, pizza, pasta, or anything calling out for that to-die-for umami flavor.
2. Give veggie burgers a boost. There’s perhaps no veggie burger as satisfying as one enhanced with nutritional yeast. Just add two tiny tablespoons of nutritional yeast to veggie burger combinations of whole grains, beans, lentils, nuts, vegetables, spices, and herbs to amp up the flavor and nutrition.
3. Get saucy. Sauces, spreads, dips, and salad dressings always can use the savory nuance of nutritional yeast. It’s especially delicious stirred into hummus, pesto, “cheese” spreads, and goddess or plant-based Caesar salad dressings. Experiment with adding a little at a time, to taste, or simply switch out the cheese and be amazed.
4. “Nooch” up veggies. Roasted veggies are pure bliss and wonderfully simple. All it takes is some cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, squash, carrots—or whatever you choose—cut to similar size and tossed with olive oil, nutritional yeast, salt to taste, pepper, and maybe a dash of pepper flakes or chili sauce on a baking sheet. Roast and splash with lemon juice or vinegar—balsamic is divine.
5. Slide it into sides. Mix a couple tablespoons of “nooch” into side dishes and they take on a fresh flavor dimension everyone will love. Mashed potatoes, tofu scramble, rice, and other whole grain side dishes and pastas are great ways to start.
— Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN, is known as The Plant-Powered Dietitian. She’s an author, blogger, and expert in plant-based nutrition and sustainability.
— Brooke Ellis is an RD eligible nutrition scientist based in Pasadena, California. She hopes to work as a food scientist and product developer or in community nutrition education.
— Images by Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN