What the Heck is Nutritional Yeast?
Nutritional yeast: neither the word “nutritional” nor the word “yeast” conjures up mouthwatering images, but the truth is, its nutritional value makes it a compelling ingredient to consider. So what is it, why use it, and where can you find it?
What It Is
Nutritional yeast is made from a single-celled organism, Saccharomyces Cerevisiae, which is grown on molasses and then harvested, washed, and dried with heat to kill or “deactivate” it. Because it’s inactive, it doesn’t froth or grow like baking yeast does so it has no leavening ability. Yeasts are members of the fungi family, like mushrooms.
Nutritional yeast has such an unappealing name that somebody started calling it “nooch” and the name caught on across the internet. The brand that most vegans use is Red Star Vegetarian Support Formula because it is a good source of vitamin B12 and contains no whey, an animal product that is used in some other brands. In the U.K., nutritional yeast is sold under the Engevita brand and in Australia as savory yeast flakes.
What It Isn’t
Nutritional yeast is not the same as brewer’s yeast, which is a product of the beer-making process and is very bitter. It’s also not Torula yeast, which is grown on paper-mill waste and is also not very tasty. And please do not try to substitute active dry yeast or baking yeast, which taste bad and will probably make a huge, frothy mess because their yeasts are alive. All three of these more traditional yeasts are live and may end up promoting yeast overgrowth in people with gut dysbiosis.
Nutritional yeast cannot cause or contribute to Candida yeast infections because it is has been deactivated. Its cell wall has been removed, which is done primarily by adding salt and heat. It is usually guaranteed not to contain any Candida species.
Where Can I Find It?
You probably won’t be able to find nutritional yeast in a typical grocery store. You may be able to buy it from the bulk bins at the local natural food store, where it is labeled “Vegetarian Support Formula.” Larger grocery stores might have Bob’s Red Mill brand or Bragg’s brand nutritional yeast in the natural food section. If you can’t find it locally, Amazon has several brands, including Red Star and the two above.
It is available in a flakes or powder. If you’re using the powder, you will need only about half as much as the flakes.
Why Use It?
As you can guess from its name, nutritional yeast is packed with nutrition, particularly B-vitamins, folic acid, selenium, zinc, and protein. It’s low in fat, gluten-free (check specific brands for certification), and contains no added sugars or preservatives. Because vitamin B12 is absent from plant foods unless it’s added as a supplement, nutritional yeast that contains B12 may be a welcome addition to the vegan diet (though taking a supplement is probably the only way to be sure you’re getting enough). Not all nooch has B12, so check the label carefully before buying.
The vitamins and minerals are all well and good, but nutritional yeast is best used for its flavor, which has been described as cheesy, nutty, savory, and “umami.” Just a tablespoon or two can add richness to soups, gravies, and other dishes, and larger amounts can make “cheese” sauces and eggless scrambles taste cheesy and eggy.
The savory, umami taste of nutritional yeast comes from glutamaic acid, an amino acid that is formed during the drying process. Glutamic acid is not the same as the commercial additive monosodium glutamate and is a naturally occurring amino acid found in many fruits and vegetables. Adding a small amount of nutritional yeast to a dish enhances the flavors present and helps form a rich flavor base.
If for some reason you can’t find nutritional yeast or can’t use it, you can safely leave it out of recipes where it’s used in small amounts as only a flavor enhancer. In recipes where nutritional yeast provides the bulk of the flavor, such as vegan cheese sauces, it’s best not to attempt to substitute it.
How to Use It?
If you’re new to nooch, it’s better to try it a little at a time rather than to dive right into a recipe that uses a lot of it. Try some of the suggestions below, using just a little until you develop a taste for it:
- Make almond “parmesan” – blend nutritional yeast with raw almonds in a food processor.
- Add a tablespoon or two to dishes to enhance flavors.
Health-e-Solutions comment: Nutritional yeast is definitely a transitional food for the RomanDiet and the Health-e-Solutions lifestyle so if you decide to use it, you should be well on your way to stable blood sugars and decreased antibody activity. While it is gluten free in many cases, it may contribute to gluten cross-reactivity in people with autoimmune diseases. It may be an allergen to people with yeast allergies or FODMAP sensitivity. It may also contain mycotoxins (could not find definitive answer).
It does not have any added monosodium glutamate. However, it contains naturally-occurring, free glutamic acid, the salt form of which is MSG. Glutamic acid, being a constituent of protein, is present in every food that contains protein, as well as in many vegetables, fungi and meats. It is more abundant in fermented foods. Nutritional yeast is a fermented food.
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