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You’ve probably heard a lot of talk about ‘nooch’ – every vegan’s favorite multi-use seasoning – but have you ever wondered what nutritional yeast actually is?
What Is Nutritional Yeast?
The answer is that this vitamin- and mineral-packed topper for potatoes, popcorn, and more is a granulated deactivated yeast, typically saccharomyces cerevisiae. That is the same strain that, in an activated form, is known as brewer’s yeast (though it’s not the only type of yeast used in modern beer-making), and baker’s yeast. The proline and ornithine in saccharomyces cerevisiae are specifically associated with making bread smell like bread.
Nutritional yeast has a ‘cheesy’ flavor — an umami tang that’s savory and complex, like seaweed or mushrooms. Vegans love nutritional yeast because it usually contains vitamin B12 — a 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.
Vegemite, the divisive but enduringly popular Australian food stuff is primarily made of the same stuff as nutritional yeast, but was developed using an extract made from leftover yeast after commercial beer brewing. Same strain of yeast, but in a different form and with the addition of other ingredients (so don’t skip all nutritional yeast just because you don’t like Vegemite!).
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.
What to Do With It
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.
½ cup nutritional yeast
½ cup raw almonds or walnuts
½ teaspoon coarse sea salt
½ 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.