Nutritional yeast is a yeast-based supplement packed with dairy-free cheesy flavor that goes great on a wide range of foods.
Basically, if you love cheese but cheese doesn’t love you back, nutritional yeast may just be your dream come true.
Plus, it can help you meet your daily nutritional needs and provide some other health benefits.
How? Well, let’s take a look.
Nutritional yeast, sometimes called “nooch,” is grown on a sugary medium such as molasses and then harvested, pasteurized, and dried.
While it’s made from the same yeast as brewer’s yeast — a type of deactivated yeast that is a byproduct of beer making — the two products differ in taste and nutritional profile.
Pasteurization deactivates the yeast, so it no longer has its usual leavening powers. The resulting product consists of yellow, fish food-like flakes with a strong cheesy, nutty flavor that’s a favorite of vegans and omnivores alike.
Most of the nutritional yeast products sold in stores and online are fortified with B vitamins, like B12, but unfortified yeast is also available.
Because of its cheesy taste, nutritional yeast is used as a dairy-free and vegan cheese alternative in sauces, soups, dips, and more.
Most of the nutritional yeast you’ll find on grocery store shelves and online is fortified. This means that nutrients such as B12 were added to it during processing.
Unfortified nutritional yeast contains less of certain nutrients than fortified nutritional yeast does. Here’s a chart for comparison:
|Fortified nutritional yeast (15-gram serving)||Unfortified nutritional yeast (15-gram serving)|
|Protein||8 g||8 g|
|Carbs||5 g||5 g|
|Fat||<1 g||<1 g|
|Fiber||3 g||4 g|
|Thiamine (B1)||980% of the Daily Value (DV)||200% of the DV|
|Riboflavin (B2)||750% of the DV||6% of the DV|
|Niacin (B3)||290% of the DV||90% of the DV|
|B12||730% of the DV||0% of the DV|
|Potassium||6% of the DV||7% of the DV|
As you can see, both unfortified and fortified nutritional yeast contain a variety of B vitamins. Both types also provide other nutrients, including protein, potassium, and iron.
Fortified nutritional yeast is much higher in B vitamins because they’re added to it during processing.
Also, only fortified yeast will contain vitamin B12. The yeast used to make nutritional yeast doesn’t naturally produce B12, so unfortified versions don’t contain this important nutrient.
If you’re buying fortified nutritional yeast, the ingredients label will look like this:
Ingredients: Inactive nutritional yeast [dried yeast, niacin (vitamin B3), pyridoxine hydrochloride (vitamin B6), riboflavin (vitamin B2), thiamin hydrochloride (vitamin B1), folic acid, vitamin B12].
If you’re buying unfortified nutritional yeast, the only ingredient will be dried yeast, and the label will look like this:
Ingredients: Dried yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae)
Fortified nutritional yeast can be beneficial because it’s higher in certain nutrients and is a concentrated source of B12, which is especially important for peeps on plant-based and vegetarian diets, including vegans.
Before you start thinking nutritional yeast is a cure-all, it’s important to know that there isn’t a ton of research on the health effects of consuming it.
Even though some people have claimed that eating nutritional yeast can help address everything from low breast milk supply to infections, there’s no solid evidence to back up these claims.
Still, nutritional yeast may be helpful for health in a few ways.
It’s a great plant-based source of B12
As we mentioned earlier, one of the main benefits of fortified nutritional yeast is that it contains a substantial amount of B vitamins, including vitamin B12.
Research suggests that folks following strict vegetarian and vegan diets are at greater risk of developing a vitamin B12 deficiency, which can lead to serious health issues if not treated.
B12 is concentrated in animal-based foods, not plant-based foods. This means vegans need to regularly consume B12-fortified foods or supplement with B12 to maintain healthy levels.
Not getting enough B12 in your diet can cause symptoms like:
- peripheral neuropathy or weakness
- pain in hands and feet
B12 deficiency can even lead to serious nervous system damage if left untreated.
Fortified nutritional yeast contains about 730% of the DV for vitamin B12 per 15-gram serving and can easily be added to dressings, grain dishes, and pasta. It’s an easy way for vegans, vegetarians, and omnivores alike to add more B12 to their diets.
But if you have a B12 deficiency, you shouldn’t try to address it with nutritional yeast. Even though nutritional yeast is high in B12, research suggests it’s not as effective at increasing B12 levels as B12 supplements are.
B12 deficiency is typically treated with oral B12 supplements or, in some cases, B12 injections. A B12 deficiency requires diagnosis and treatment by a healthcare professional. If you think you may have low B12 or a deficiency, talk with a healthcare pro about getting your levels checked.
It’s an easy way to get in more nutrients
In addition to B12, nutritional yeast is a good source of many other vitamins and minerals, including B6, iron, fiber, chromium, and protein.
Adding nutrient-dense foods like nutritional yeast to your diet can be a great way to promote health and maintain ideal levels of vitamins and minerals in your bod.
Because it contains decent amounts of protein and fiber — about 8 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber per 1/4-cup (15-gram) serving — nutritional yeast can make meals and snacks a bit more filling.
Protein and fiber both help you feel full and satisfied — protein is the most filling of the three macronutrients.
Protein-rich food options are somewhat limited when you’re following a vegan diet, and using nutritional yeast can be an easy way to add a bit of plant-based protein to vegan dishes.
It provides beta-glucans
Nutritional yeast contains Saccharomyces cerevisiae, a type of yeast that’s made up of fibers called beta-glucans.
Beta-glucans are also found in foods such as oats and barley. Research suggests that eating foods rich in beta-glucans regularly may benefit heart health by lowering cholesterol levels, improve blood sugar regulation, and more.
However, it’s unclear how the beta-glucans found in typically consumed amounts of nutritional yeast impact health.
Most studies on beta-glucans have focused on high dose supplements or other foods that contain beta-glucans, such as oats.
Nevertheless, eating foods like nutritional yeast and oats is a delicious way to get more beta-glucans in your diet.
Even though it looks more like something you’d sprinkle into your garden or fish tank, nutritional yeast has a savory, cheesy, and nutty taste that’s *chef’s kiss* in all sorts of savory recipes.
Because it’s dairy-free and vegan-friendly, it’s a great option for peeps who can’t or don’t eat dairy. It’s also low in sodium, which makes it a good option for those looking to cut their salt intake without sacrificing flavor.
A few ways to use nutritional yeast in the kitchen
- Use it to make a vegan cheese sauce.
- Mix it with ingredients like apple cider vinegar, coconut aminos, and olive oil to make a killer dressing.
- Try out this Vegan Cheez Its recipe starring nutritional yeast.
- Sprinkle nutritional yeast over popcorn for a cheesy taste without dairy.
You can also add nutritional yeast to eggs, mashed potatoes, veggie burgers, mixed nuts, soups, and any other dish that needs a kick of flavorful goodness.
Nutritional yeast is a smart choice when you know a recipe needs a little somethin’ somethin’ but you don’t want to add more salt. It has an umami taste that adds a hint of flavor without being overwhelming.
Nutritional yeast may not look like the most appetizing ingredient, but it’s sure to impress you with its unique savory flavor.
It’s not only a flavorful and vegan-friendly food but also an excellent source of certain nutrients, including B vitamins. Plus, fortified nutritional yeast packs a ton of vitamin B12, which is typically lacking in some people’s diets, including those who follow vegan diets.
Whether you’re an omnivore, a vegan, or a vegetarian, nutritional yeast is a delicious way to boost your nutrient intake and add dairy-free cheesy flavor to your fave foods.