What the Heck Is Nutritional Yeast, Really?
Consider it a healthier—and way more natural—version of Cheeto dust
You've seen nutritional yeast sprinkled on salads and roasted veggies, and you might have heard nutritionists telling you to make it a regular addition to your plates, but what exactly is nutritional yeast-and what health benefits does it offer? Here, Jennie Miremadi, M.S., integrative nutritionist and EFT practitioner, sheds some light on this superfood, or should you say, super flake?
What is nutritional yeast?
Often nicknamed "nooch," it's an inactive form of yeast (the saccharomyces cervisae strain, to be specific), and Miremadi says it's grown on other foods, like sugarcane and beet molasses, and then processed (harvest, wash, pasteurize, dry) to get it at ready-to-eat levels. Surprisingly, though, it doesn't have any sugar or a sweet taste, despite its origin on foods that have naturally-occurring sugar. In fact, it's quite the opposite. "Nutritional yeast has a rich, nutty, cheese-like taste that can enhance the flavor of many savory vegan dishes," says Miremadi. And because it comes in yellow flakes or a powder form, it's super easy to "dust" onto meals to kick your flavor-and health benefits-up a notch. (Looking for other ways to cut back on dairy or cut calories a bit by limiting your cheese? Try these Cheese-Free Pizza Recipes So Good You Won't Even Miss the Cheese.)
Here's more on those health benefits
Nutritional yeast is usually fortified with B vitamins, including thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6 and B12, says Miremadi, all of which help convert food into fuel so you get through the day feeling energized. The vitamin B12 is particularly important for vegans and vegetarians. "They can have a hard time getting a sufficient amount of the vitamin in their diets because it's naturally present in animal products like fish, beef, liver, and milk products, but it's generally not naturally found in plant foods," she adds. The National Institutes of Health recommends 2.4 mcg of B12 per day, so sprinkling just two tablespoons of nutritional yeast on roasted veggies is an easy way to meet your daily minimum.
Bonus: Miremadi says nutritional yeast is also a good source of selenium and zinc, which help boost immune function, and with three grams of fiber and seven grams of protein in two tablespoons, it's not a bad idea to add it to your post-workout recovery meal. (Check out these Favorite Post-Workout Snacks from Trainers.)
How to eat nutritional yeast
Thanks to its cheesy flavor, nutritional yeast is a great non-dairy substitute for those who can't or choose not to eat dairy, says Miremadi. "It's an easy way to replicate the cheese flavor that doesn't taste super fake," she says. Need some inspiration? "Sprinkle it on popcorn, or instead of Parmesan, use it in a pesto sauce," she suggests. (Try any of these 12 Healthy Pesto Recipes That Don't Involve Pasta to get you started.)
If you just want to try this food trend and don't have an intolerance to dairy, Miremadi says you can mix some into a cup of Greek yogurt (vegans can use unsweetened coconut yogurt) for an interested savory-sweet-tart flavor combination. And because vegetables don't have vitamin B12, she suggests adding it to veggie-based meals, sides, and snacks to get a more well-balanced bite. You can also pump up your popcorn with a sprinkle of nutritional yeast-just toss with olive oil and salt, too, or turn roasted broccoli into a cheesy roasted side dish by topping the veggie with nutritional yeast before baking.
For a tasty snack, try this recipe for "Cheesy" Roasted Chickpeas
"Cheesy" Roasted Chickpeas
1 16-oz. can chickpeas
1 tbsp. olive oil
1/3 cup nutritional yeast flakes
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1. Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Drain and rinse chickpeas and dry with a paper towel.
3. Toss chickpeas with olive oil, nutritional yeast, and smoked paprika.
4. Bake for 30-40 minutes until crunchy and golden brown. Sprinkle with salt and let cool. Enjoy!
You can also sub chickpeas for chopped kale in Miremadi's "Cheesy" Kale Chips recipe.
"Cheesy" Kale Chips
1/2 cup raw cashews soaked for 4 hours, then drained
4 cups kale, chopped
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
2 tbsp. coconut or olive oil
Pinch Himalayan or sea salt
Pinch cayenne pepper
1. Preheat oven to 275 degrees F. Add kale to a mixing bowl with olive or coconut oil and use hands to coat the kale with the oil.
2. Add soaked cashews, nutritional yeast, salt and cayenne pepper to a blender or food processor and pulse into a finely ground mixture.
3. Add cashew mixture to kale and use hands to coat the kale, making sure all leaves are covered.
4. Spread kale on baking sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes. Use a spatula to toss kale leaves and bake for an additional 7-15 minutes, or until kale chips are crispy and slightly browned. Remove from oven and let cool before eating.