Vegan Staples: Nutritional Yeast

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Nutritional yeast is available in flaked or powdered form. This is what the flaked form looks like.

What is Nutritional Yeast? 

Nutritional yeast is a deactivated yeast of the strain, Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Although this species of yeast is also used for baking, brewing, and winemaking, nutritional yeast is a strain that is unique because its properties have been selected specifically for the purpose of producing nutritional yeast as the final product. Because the yeast has been killed (deactivated), it cannot grow anymore. Therefore it does not have any leavening properties (so in case you run out of baking yeast and get the crazy idea to try using nutritional yeast, it won’t make your bread rise).

Nutritional yeast is tasty. It has a savoury, creamy and cheesy flavour. You can sprinkle it on mashed potatoes, kale chips, or pasta, instead of cheese. It is amazing on popcorn. Basically, if you want to add a more cheesy flavour to something, you can count on nutritional yeast. Because of its naturally high glutamate content, nutritional yeast is high in umami, the fifth taste after sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. You actually have distinct taste receptors for this fifth taste. I’ve written about umami here.

The reason nutritional yeast is very high in the umami taste is because when the yeast cells are killed, the proteins in the cell walls break down into their constituent amino acids, yielding high amounts of glutamic acid, and then glutamate as a result. Foods that are high in glutamate content have the umami characteristic of tasting savoury and smooth.

You can purchase nutritional yeast in flaked or powdered form.

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Nutritional yeast is wonderful on popcorn.

Nutritional Yeast is Nutritional, As the Name Suggests

Unfortified, there are high levels of thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, and zinc. There are also good amounts of copper, magnesium, manganese, and iron. Fortified nutritional yeast contains high levels of vitamin B12 which has been added after yeast production. As I have previously written, vitamin B12 is important for vegans because it must be supplemented in the vegan diet. One of the ways you can supplement B12 is through fortified nutritional yeast.

How is this Stuff Produced?

The yeast is cultured in a medium of sugarcane or beet molasses for a few days. As it is growing and dividing, the yeast feeds on glucose in the medium. When a large enough culture has been produced, the yeast is rendered inactive by heat. It is then collected, cleaned, and dried. If the nutritional yeast is to be fortified, then vitamin B12 is added.

Not to be Confused With…

There are other yeasts at the grocery store including brewer’s yeast, torula yeast, and dry (baking) yeast. Torula yeast is used for flavouring as nutritional yeast is, but the two are different. Torula yeast is grown on wood liquor, which is a byproduct of the paper making industry. You may like torula yeast, so give that a try sometime too if you haven’t already.

When you buy nutritional yeast, you will often find it under the brands, Red Star and Engevita.

Here is a nice vegan mac and cheese which incorporates nutritional yeast. Use your creativity and explore even more ways to incorporate nutritional yeast into your meals. Jazz up your recipes with this yummy vegan staple!

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Nutritional yeast can play a starring role in vegan mac and cheese.