I’ve been meaning to ask my mother-in-law about her thoughts on nutritional yeast. Not because she’s an expert on the stuff, but because she really went to town with it when she was here over the holidays. It’s one of the condiments we put on the table at every meal, and she sprinkled it over every plate of pasta, homemade pizza, and even salads, just like we do. Only I could have sworn I heard her say something about “cheese” as she shook the jar over a slice of pesto-potato pie.
I can understand her taste buds’ confusion; nutritional yeast does have a cheesey je ne sais quoi about it—an umami tang that’s savory and complex, like seaweed or mushrooms. This ‘shroom comparison makes sense if you know that nutritional yeast is actually a fungus that’s grown on beets and molasses, then dried and sold as flakes or powder (sometimes in bulk) at natural-food stores.
Vegans love nutritional yeast because it usually contains vitamin B12—the one vitamin that can be tricky to get enough of on a plant-based diet. The vitamin content can vary from brand to brand, but you can generally expect to find a broad spectrum of B vitamins and minerals. Nutritional yeast has a lot of versatility in the kitchen. It can be added to gravies for extra-rich flavor and a vitamin boost, blended with chili powder and garlic and cooked up into a nacho cheese-like sauce, sprinkled over anything that might taste good with Parmesan cheese on it, and it has a special affinity with popcorn. I use this faux Parmesan as a base to which I sometimes add smoked paprika, chili powder, or other spices to give it even more flavor. Cheezy Sprinkles 1/2 cup nutritional yeast 1/2 cup raw almonds or walnuts 1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt 1/2 teaspoon of your favorite herb or spice (chili powder, smoked paprika, Italian seasonings, and curry powder work well), optional Pulse all ingredients in a food processor until you yield a fine, crumbly texture. Store in a glass jar in the refrigerator. Here are three more must-try recipes from our archives that call for nutritional yeast: Crispy Kale Chips Mini Mango and Black Bean Casseroles Homemade Seitan SHARE WITH US: What’s your favorite brand of nutritional yeast?