What the heck is nutritional yeast?

by Amy Renee
What the heck is nutritional yeast?

Scary vegan food: nutritional yeast a.k.a. “nooch”

WHAT EXACTLY IS IT ANYWAY?

It’s funny – before I ever even tasted nutritional yeast I did some research to find out exactly what the heck it was, because WHO WANTS TO EAT SOMETHING THEY DON’T KNOW ABOUT…RIGHT? But then I ended up LOVING it and started putting it on EVERYTHING from grilled veggies to raw veggie and hummus pita sandwiches to scrambled tofu to…well…everything! Then about an entire year later my boyfriend asked me what it was and I couldn’t answer him. Me, the plant-based nutritionist couldn’t tell him what nooch is. I know, I know…embarrassing.

So of course I had to do my research all over again and figured I’d write a short blog post about it since it has become one of my all time favorite foods. So…I remembered that it was some sort of fermented yeast and wasn’t the same thing as brewer’s yeast…

Nutritional yeast is a type of fungus (Saccharomyces Cerevisiae) that is grown on cane or beet molasses and is often fortified with vitamin B12. After it has grown it is then washed and heated to deactivate (kill) and dry it. In the end it is yellow in color and can be made into large flakes or smaller flakes – almost like a powder.

HOW DOES IT TASTE?

Nutritional yeast, also known as “nooch” by the plant-based and/or vegan community has a nutty, cheesy flavor with a texture similar to that of grated parmesan cheese. It adds a delicious depth of flavor to both sweet and savory foods and can be used both in baking or in creating sauces such as gravies or cheese sauces or as a topping such as on popcorn or salad. I like to put it on everything – in stews, on sandwiches, in mashed potatoes, in scrambled tofu, EVERYTHING! It is DELICIOUS!!!

IS IT GOOD FOR ME?

Nutritional yeast is SUPER healthy, especially for individuals on a 100% plant-based diet since it is a great source of vitamin B12 (if you purchase a brand that is fortified with B12 and most are) and other B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, and pantothenic acid). It is also a good source of protein, fiber, magnesium, copper, manganese, and zinc. The protein in nutritional yeast contains all 18 amino acids!

Why are B vitamins so important?

This group of vitamins serve several functions in the body:

  • Function as cofactors and enzymes in most metabolic reactions (necessary for normal metabolism to occur)
  • Aid in the synthesis and repair of DNA
  • Play a role in the formation of red and white blood cells
  • Serve critical roles in neurotransmitter metabolism  (nerve damage occurs when certain B vitamins are deficient – often irreversible!)
  • They are important for heart,  brain and immune system health
  • Necessary for normal steroid hormone production and functioning
  • Important for healthy skin, hair, and nails

WHERE DO I BUY IT?

You can generally find nutritional yeast in the bulk bins at your local health food store, but there are also packaged varieties such as Bob’s Red Mill and Red Star brands.

References:

  1. Freundlich L. Nutritional yeast demystified. Natural Health. http://www.naturalhealthmag.com/blogs/practical-well-being/nutritional-yeast-demystified. Accessed on September 30, 2014.
  2. Jacques R. The magical ingredient you didn’t know you needed. The Huffington Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/05/nutritional-yeast-dont-be-afraid_n_5628501.html. Updated on August 5, 2014. Accessed on September 30, 2014.
  3. Hackett J. Nutritional yeast: what is nutritional yeast? About food. http://vegetarian.about.com/od/glossary/g/nutyeast.htm. Accessed on September 30, 2014.
  4. Nutritional yeast flakes nutrition facts. SELF Nutrition Data. http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/custom/1323565/2. Accessed on October 1, 2014.
  5. Mahan LK, Escott-Stump S. Krause’s Food & Nutrition Therapy. 12 ed. St. Louis, MO: Saunders Elsevier; 2008.

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