Nutritional yeast — also known as nooch — became popular in the 60s during the macrobiotic era as a plant-based source of protein and other essential vitamins. The golden flakes aren’t just for hippies, though. Chefs and foodies have embraced nutritional yeast as an easy way to add a “cheesy” flavor to dishes like salad dressings, soups and sauces.
Made from saccharomyces cerevisiae, a cousin of brewer’s and baking yeast, nutritional yeast is deactivated by heating and drying processes that render it inactive. It is then sifted to make large flakes (or it can be made into a powder). It’s a complete protein, with just 2 tablespoons supplying 5 grams of protein. It’s also a complete protein, with all nine essential amino acids, so it’s a good addition to plant-based diets. It’s also generally free of gluten, soy, sugar, eggs and dairy (always check the label), so it’s a safe seasoning bet for those with allergies to those ingredients.
While nutritional yeast is rich in nutrients all on its own, most brands are fortified with even more vitamins, including B6, B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B9 (folic acid). It’s notably high in B12, which occurs mostly in animal products, so it can be a good source of the energy-giving vitamin for vegetarians and vegans. Check labels to make sure you’re getting one fortified with these beneficial vitamins.
Yes, it’s good for you, but it’s also really delicious. So how do you harness this nutritional powerhouse in your cooking? Here are five ways.
- Sprinkle over roasted vegetables. The flakes melt seamlessly, lending your veg a buttery flavor.
- Add it to homemade chicken or vegetable broth. It adds a round, umami taste and a beautiful golden color.
- Use in pesto, marinara and cream sauces. It adds a nutty flavor similar to Parmesan cheese, but without the dairy. Your mac and cheese or lasagna will never be the same.
- Use as the base for a creamy Caesar-style dressing. Blend soaked raw cashews, garlic, apple cider vinegar and nutritional yeast together (anchovies are optional).
- Sprinkle on just-popped popcorn. Combine with Italian seasoning or your spice of choice for epic flavor.
Look for nutritional yeast in the spice aisle or in the bulk section of grocery stores. Always store in a cool, dry place away from the stove.