Scrolling through almost any vegan recipe site you’re bound to run into one funny-sounding ingredient again and again: nutritional yeast. While yes, it doesn’t have the most appetizing name, believe us when we tell you it’s a must for your plant-based pantry. Keep reading to find out why vegans love this ingredient, the health benefits of nutritional yeast, and how to use it at home.
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The Full Story
Keep seeing nutritional yeast show up on your favorite plant-based recipe blogs and wondering what on earth it is? Here’s the scoop: Nutritional yeast is your new must-have pantry staple. It’s an inactive powdered yeast, not to be confused with brewer’s yeast -- though they derive from the same species, Saccharomyces cerevisiae. And unlike brewer’s yeast, nutritional yeast is dried with heat after its harvested, which deactivates its leavening properties.
Nutritional yeast is straw colored and flakey, with an umami taste that’s both nutty and cheesy. Thanks to this flavor profile, it’s gained popularity in the vegan and health food community (where it’s lovingly referred to as “nooch”) as a cheese substitute in many dishes, like vegan versions mac and cheese, Alfredo sauces, and pestos.
Aside from vegan mac and cheese being good for the soul, the health benefits of nutritional yeast are plenty.
Nutritional yeast is packed with B vitamins (linked with lower stroke risk and boosted brain health), selenium (great for healthy hair and skin), zinc (boosts immunity and libido), folate, and plant-based protein.
It’s also known as a rare vegan food source of B-12, though this is only true in fortified nutritional yeast brands so be sure to read your food labels before purchasing if this is what you’re after. (Get more information on vegans and B-12 supplementation here!)
It’s also gluten-free and doesn’t contain any added sugar or saturated fats, plus it’s low in sodium, with just 25 mg per 1 tablespoon serving. (Need more salt-free tips? Here’s our guide to seasonings without salt.)
Nutritional yeast benefits don’t stop there. This flavor booster may also help prevent cancer and improve heart health thanks to its beta glucan fiber content. This particular type of soluble fiber is also linked with boosting immunity, particularly in athletes!
There is, however, one group of people who may want to limit nutritional yeast from their diet (as well as baker's yeast and brewer's yeast): those with Crohn's disease. While researchers are still unclear if yeast is a cause of Crohn's or if having Crohn's makes you more sensitive to yeast, studies show Crohn's symptoms can worsen when Saccharomyces cerevisiae is ingested by those with the inflammatory disease.
Ready to reap these nutritional yeast benefits? Here are some of our favorite plant-based recipes with nutritional yeast:
- Plant-Based Pesto Stuffed Mushrooms
- Dairy-Free Potato Leek Soup
- No-Cook Lemon Vegan Cheesecake
- Nacho-Mama’s Fries
- Raw Vegan Pesto Zoodles
Other ways to use your nutritional yeast at home:
Add to any pasta dish for an added creaminess and cheese flavor
Give a quick dusting to your avocado toast
Add to roasted chickpeas for an umami flavor boost
Thicken dairy-free soups (in place of cream)
Add to your vegan breakfast scramble
Top your favorite salad
Jazz up your steamed veggies
Sprinkle on popcorn for movie night
Ok, so now you know what nutritional yeast is, why it’s a great vegan staple, and how to incorporate it into your diet…
Where the heck can you purchase it?
Great question! Whole food plant-based grocery shopping can be a little overwhelming when you’re new to a plant-based diet. But don’t worry -- we’ve got you covered.
While nooch used to be found only in natural food stores, it’s rising popularity means it’s now often stocked at more traditional grocery stores as well.
You’ll usually find nutritional yeast in the spice aisle (brands most often carried in traditional stores include Bragg’s and Bob’s Red Mill). If you’re going to a natural food store or Whole Foods, you can head to the bulk section. And if your traditional grocery store doesn’t carry it and you don’t live near a natural food store, fret not! You can still get your nooch on when you order online. Thrive Market and Amazon both carry nutritional yeast.
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Nutritional yeast is an inactive yeast (AKA it doesn’t rise!) that’s used as a flavor booster in vegan dishes
It has a cheesy and nutty flavor, which is why it’s often used in vegan versions of traditionally cheese-heavy dishes.
Nutritional yeast benefits are aplenty as it’s packed with B vitamins, selenium, zinc, folate, and protein.
Nutritional yeast can sometimes be found at your traditional grocery stores in the spice aisle, and almost always at natural food stores in the bulk bins. You can also purchase it online!
By Ali Brown
Ali is a nutrition and lifestyle writer and editor, with a Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies.