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What is nutritional yeast and why is it in so many vegan recipes?

Have you ever eaten this yellow, powdery ingredient? If you're not sure what we are talking about, read on!

07 Sep 2018
nutritional yeast in a bowl

(Image: iStock)

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If you've found yourself scratching your head when you see the term 'nutritional yeast' in a recipe, fear not - we're here to enlighten you. And while all the vegans might be yawning right now, thinking "this is so 2011", bear with us because after a few recent interactions we've had, it's pretty clear to us that many people are totally unfamiliar with it. And no, it has nothing to do with the yeast with which you make bread. 

What actually is it? 
Don't be mislead by the name itself, but nutritional yeast (or 'nootch' for those in the know), is basically a single-cell organism - because technically yeast is a living thing, which grows on molasses and sugar cane. It's a deactivated yeast that comes in a dry powdery form which has a similar texture to small specks of sawdust. It's light yellow in colour and is most often used as a condiment. It's great on scrambled eggs, as a quick stir-through for pasta, on popcorn, on potatoes, and even as an addition to soups and broths. 

What flavour does it have and will I like it? 
The reason nutritional yeast is so ubiquitous in vegan recipes is that it has a similar flavour to cheese - specifically Parmesan. It has a strong rich, nutty umami savouriness to it that makes it rather seductive. You could be fooled for thinking it contains a Nik-Naks kind of MSG but it doesn't! The umami taste actually comes from glutamaic acid which is an amino acid that is formed during the drying process.

Nutritional yeast is best stored in a cool, dry place and in an airtight container. You can keep it for up to a year, according to Food52 users. 

Why is it nutritional? 
Aside from the moreish flavour profile, here's another big reason people reach for a packet of nutritional yeast: it's reported to have incredible nutritional benefits... 

Mindbodygreen says it's a great source of protein (2 tablespoons contain 9 grams of protein). 

Healthline states that it contains trace minerals like zinc, selenium, manganese and molybdenum. 

Nutrition Stripped says it has 'heaps of B vitamins'. 

Where can I get it? 
Nutritional yeast was once like almond milk - you could only really find it hidden away in small health shops but now you'll see it on various supermarket shelves and you can also order it online. 

Tell us - have you ever cooked with nutritional yeast? Let us know in the comments section or email us!

Read more on: superfoods  |  ingredients

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