The Veggie Table: Three Ways to Enjoy Nutritional Yeast

Nutritional yeast is a complete source of protein and is used by those following a vegan diet to mimic the flavor of cheese in recipes. Have you tried it?
By: Janel Ovrut Funk
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Nutritional Yeast Flakes

Photo by: Stephanie Frey

Stephanie Frey

Before I switched to a plant-based diet, I had never heard of nutritional yeast. Aside from it sounding like something you'd only find in a crunchy health food store, the name gives no indication to what it actually is or what it can be used for. It took some experimenting over the years, but I can now say nutritional yeast – oftentimes affectionately called "nooch" – is a staple in my kitchen.

Nutritional yeast is deactivated yeast sold in the form of flakes (that look a lot like fish food) or a yellow powder. It's vegan and a complete source of protein, which makes it a staple in many vegans' diets. It contains B-vitamins and is oftentimes fortified with vitamin B12, which is absent from plant foods unless its been added in as a supplement. For more information on nutritional yeast, this post on Fat Free Vegan Kitchen is very helpful.

Nooch has a flavor that is slightly nutty and cheesy, which makes it a great ingredient when trying to mimic the flavor of cheese in a vegan recipe. If the thought of buying a big container of nutritional yeast intimidates you, head to your nearest health food store where you can usually find bulk bins of nutritional yeast. Buy a small amount to experiment with, and soon you'll be heading back for more!

One of the easiest ways to incorporate nutritional yeast into your diet is sprinkled on top of popcorn, much like you’d sprinkle on salt or Parmesan cheese. On the stovetop or using the brown bag method, pop plain kernels of popcorn and sprinkle with salt and nutritional yeast. Maybe soon we'll see nooch in the movie theater as a topping option sitting alongside the massive pump of liquid butter!

Another goof-proof way to incorporate nooch into your diet is to sprinkle it onto a basic tofu scramble for a cheesy flavor. In fact, you can sprinkle nooch onto most savory dishes to get that nutty, cheesy taste. Try it on your lasagna, casserole, roasted veggies, and more.

Once you get the hang of cooking with nutritional yeast, try using it to make a cheesy sauce. You'll be amazed at how creamy and cheese-like it tastes! Some of my favorite nooch-cheese sauce recipes include vegan pumpkin alfredo and this cheesy cauliflower bake. Try this basic nutritional yeast cheese sauce recipe to get started, and replace the butter with a non-dairy replacement if you're keeping it dairy-free.

TELL US: Have you ever cooked with nutritional yeast? How do you use it?

Janel Funk, MS RD LDN, loves experimenting with vegetarian and vegan cooking. Read her food blog, Eat Well with Janel, and follow her on twitter @DietitianJanel. Catch up on her previous posts here.

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