I Have a Whole New Appreciation for This Common Vegan Ingredient

Turns out, not all yeast is created equal.

January 28, 2020
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Vegan Mac n “Cheeze”, as seen on Food Network Kitchen.

Photo by: Lauren Volo

Lauren Volo

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When it comes to food, I’m not one to write anything off – including vegan dishes. But the one thing I just can’t seem to get behind? Nutritional yeast.

Much to my surprise, I really like vegan mac and cheese. And while vegan and cheese rarely go together, where vegan mac and cheese is lacking in dairy products it makes up for in flavor. That flavor more often than not comes from none other than nutritional yeast.

Despite my enjoyment, every time I’ve ordered mac and cheese off a vegan menu, seeing nutritional yeast – a staple vegan ingredient – listed below the menu item just makes my stomach turn. I’ve simply tried not to think too deeply about what something called “nutritional yeast” looks or tastes like. (Let’s be honest, the name doesn’t exactly sound appetizing.)

Then I decided I wanted to make my own vegan mac and cheese at home.

Alyssa Gagarin's Vegan Mac n “Cheeze”, as seen on Food Network Kitchen.

Photo by: Lauren Volo

Lauren Volo

It felt like a daunting task until I watched Alyssa Gagarin’s class on Vegan Mac N “Cheeze” on the Food Network Kitchen app. In her 15-minute demo, Alyssa goes step-by-step, breaking down how to turn vegetables and cashews into an ooey, gooey cheese-like sauce. That all seemed like it was reasonable enough. In fact, I thought the “cheese” mixture already looked good enough to be tossed in pasta.

But – I should’ve known this was coming – she then shared that nutritional yeast was essential to this dish. For texture, vegetables will do. But for a cheesy flavor? That’s where the nutritional yeast comes in.

Bracing myself for some complicated, hands-on process involving soaking the yeast in water and letting it grow for three days, I was so surprised when all she did was take out a store-bought jar of yellow powder and add a few spoonfuls to the sauce mixture. (I now know that nutritional yeast is deactivated yeast, so it can’t be bloomed or used to make anything rise.)

Yes, it’s that easy. No strange magic here.

Just good old-school mac and cheese made the vegan way, nutritional yeast and all.

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