If you’re curious about why this ingredient should be added to your pantry or how to use the supply you already have, here’s what you need to know about nutritional yeast.
Nutritional yeast is an inactive form of the species of yeast known as Saccharomyces cerevisiae. (The active species is the same one used to produce bread, beer, and wine.) The yeast is deactivated by a heating and drying process that gives it a toasty, nutty flavor and leaves it in fine flat leaves that are ground into a powder. or broken into flakes (which bear a slightly uncanny resemblance to fish food).
“As its cells die, the proteins that made them up break down and amino acids like glutamic acid, which are found naturally in many fruits and vegetables, are released,” Alicia Kennedy writes in Serious Eats. It is this glutamic acid, also called glutamate, that is responsible for the umami flavor of nutritional yeast and explains the comparison it often gets with parmesan cheese, another umami-rich food. Although I have hints of cheese, I also find nutritional yeast reminiscent of roast chicken, as if the skin had been dehydrated and put in a shaker.
While some deny the comparison of cheese when it comes to flavor, the parmesan analogy is apt for how it can be used i.e. it can be added to anything . And comparing it to another umami-rich seasoning, GMS, Nooch does not contain sodium and can be used in larger quantities. It is perhaps best known as a seasoning for popcorn or as a crucial ingredient in many vegan mac and cheese recipes. You can also sprinkle it over roasted vegetables, use it in salad dressings, or add it to boost umami in soups. (Note that it also acts as a thickener.) Tim Chin for serious meals discovered that in addition to adding flavor, it also acts as a dough relaxant, improving the elasticity of his hand-pulled lamian noodle recipe.
And as the name suggests, it’s actually a good source of nutrients. “A quarter cup of nooch, which has 60 calories, provides more protein than a large egg and is packed with fiber and an array of B vitamins and minerals. It is often fortified with vitamin B12, which is especially important for vegans as this essential nutrient is found primarily in animal products,” Ellie Krieger writes.
Nutritional yeast is available in many supermarkets, health stores, and online. This should last until to two years when stored in an airtight container in a cool, dark place, such as a pantry (refrigerate for a slightly longer shelf life). You can tell it has expired if the color changes from pale yellow to darker brown and/or if it starts to clump together. Here are some recipes to use it before you get to that.
Vegan Mac and Cheese with Broccoli. Nutritional yeast, miso, and mustard pack this cashew-based “cheese” sauce with nutty, deep, and zesty flavors.
Maple Mustard Tofu. A combination of cornstarch, nutritional yeast and dried herbs coats the tofu before it is roasted in the oven and then tossed in a maple mustard sauce.
Chickpea omelets with mushrooms, spinach and tomatoes. Nooch and turmeric are responsible for the earthy, nutty color and flavor of these eggless omelettes.
Green cabbage and quinoa. This recipe relies on nooch to add umami to kale cheese mixed with onion, sun-dried tomatoes and pine nuts.
Crunchy clusters of nuts and seeds. Coconut aminos and nutritional yeast combine in this recipe to make these crunchy clusters extra flavorful and high in umami.