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By Andrea Drever

Content and Editorial Director

Maybe you’ve seen nutritional yeast in recipes and figured it was some sort of bland nutrition-boosting additive, like niacin. As it turns out, it’s actually a healthy powder that adds an umami flavor to foods, something generally missing from vegan dishes. Nutritional yeast — or "nooch" — has long been a staple in vegan pantries, with plant-based cooks reaching for the flaky, yellow substance whenever they want a cheesy, nutty flavor. And now, nooch is going mainstream, with chefs across the country incorporating it into vegan and non-vegan dishes alike. Which makes now the perfect time for a primer on what nutritional yeast is and how to use it.

Nutritional yeast is an inactive form of the yeast strain known as Saccharomyces cerevisiae, the same one found in bread and beer. It’s fed a glucose-rich carbohydrate, like corn dextrose or beet molasses, inside fermentation chambers. Once the yeast matures, it’s heated, pasteurized and dried, which kills it. (Eating active yeast can lead to major dietary distress.) The nutritional yeast you can buy at the store has a bright yellow color and is sold powdered or in flakes. You can find it in most health food stores, and at well-stocked markets like Whole Foods.

Nutritional yeast is rich in nutrients often lacking from vegetarian and vegan diets, and is also free of gluten, soy and sugar, making it a great dietary addition for people with food sensitivities. It’s already rich in thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), pyridoxine (B6), potassium and zinc, and most varieties are fortified with even more vitamins including B12 and folic acid. 

How To Use Nutritional Yeast
Put it on popcorn. By far, the most common use for nutritional yeast is as a popcorn sprinkle. Add a liberal amount (at 20 calories per tablespoon, you can go crazy), then toss it well with a few cracks of fresh pepper. Popping the corn with a good amount of oil, if you choose to pop the old-fashioned way, will help the flakes stick to each kernel.

Use it as a cheese substitute. Since nutritional yeast approximates the flavor of Parmesan cheese, it works well in pesto, mac and cheese and sauces. It’s not a one-to-one substitution, so look for recipes that use nutritional yeast for guidance.

Sprinkle it on scrambled tofu. Scramble up some tofu, add tomatoes and sprinkle on some nutritional yeast for a hearty and delicious breakfast or lunch.  

Add it to salads. Sprinkling some nutritional yeast on top of your favorite salad is a great way to add extra flavor and nutrition to your greens.

Create a broth. Melted into vegetable stocks and broths, nutritional yeast can mimic meaty flavors, giving your broth a rich umami flavor.

Dress your vegetables with it. Adding nutritional yeast to vegetables and sauces gives them a burst of saltiness and cheesiness, without actually adding salt or cheese. Try our recipe for Unbelievably Flavorful Mashed Cauliflower, which contains this magical “Cheeto dust.”

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