What is nutritional yeast?
Nutritional yeast comes from the fungi kingdom, it’s grown on a food source, typically molassas, sometimes whey. Once harvested, it’s heated, dried and crumbled into yellow flakes.
It differs from bakers yeast in that it isn’t alive – so it’s not going to make bread rise, or your food frothy! Nutritional yeast shouldn’t be confused with brewers yeast either. Brewers yeast is also a single-celled fungus, and can also be taken as a nutritional supplement but it tastes really bitter and so is best to be left for the beer makers.
Are we going to address this whole name thing?
Well apparently I’m not the only one who finds the name nutritional yeast unappealing (particularly since it looks so unappealing also – think, fish food). Not surprisingly it has picked up a few nick names here in the US, nooch and hippie dust being the most common, which to be honest, I don’t think sounds much better!
In Australia it’s known as savoury yeast flakes, but I didn’t recognize it from my childhood until I realized it’s what we called brufax in New Zealand.
Yeshi, I’m told, is the Ethiopean name and I like that. It’s starting to stick. Shame re-imagining it’s appearance isn’t as easy.
Is it good for me?
Like pretty much anything, the nutritional value will differ between manufacturers – but in general, yeah, this stuff is pretty good to add to your diet, particularly for vegetarians and vegans.
A serving gives a decent amount of protein, and importantly, it’s a complete protein meaning that it has a good proportion of each of the nine essential amino acids which we require. Except for in a few cases (quinoa, pumpkin seeds, chickpeas, turnip greens, soy and pistachios are a examples) most plant proteins don’t contain all nine amino acids, unlike meat, fish, dairy and eggs and so for vegetarians or vegans this can be a real advantage (of course, a diet with a wide range of plant proteins will have us covered too).
Added bonus for non-meat eaters, it’s often fortified with B12 (which there is no non-vegan food source for). It’s also good additional fiber, folate, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, selenium and zinc. Perhaps more importantly than what is in it, is also what it doesn’t contain: it’s low on sodium and calories and is sugar and dairy free.
How do I use it?
Think of it as seasoning. It’s kind of nutty-ish, I guess. You know those cooking cubes you pop in soup for more flavor? They often contain nutritional yeast – particularly the veggie ones. So just like that, stir a spoonful or two into a soup or stew. Sprinkle on cooked pasta, popcorn or eggs. It’s great on avocado, tomatoes. I remember people used to have it on toast in New Zealand – which is great for flavor but it’s kind of dry and dusty so for that reason that idea doesn’t appeal to me.
Nutritional yeast also gets called a ‘cheese substitute’ a lot – which leads me to this:
The yeshi pizza experiment.
Yeshi is probably best known in online-vegan-ville as a cheese substitute and so I decided to give that a go tonight. Although picking one of my least favorite things to eat (pizza – yuck!) as a place to start might not have been my wisest move, but I had promised the kids to make homemade pizza over the summer holidays and so my view was I couldn’t make it any worse with this experiment. I decided on a simple pesto base with fresh tomato topping. Sprinkled on oregano and basil and a good sprinkle of nutritional yeast.
There isn’t much to say about how to put pesto, tomatoes and flavoring on a pizza base so let’s just cut to the verdict: I think the whole ‘it’s just like cheese thing’ is a little misleading and in waiting for the yeshi to ‘melt’ as per every-blogger-who-just-plagiarized-every-other-blogger-saying-it-should-melt-without-bothering-to-try-it-themselves-instructions, I did overcook the pizza a little.
Take it from someone who has actually tried it,
nutritional yeast doesn’t really act like cheese.
However, I can say, that everyone enjoyed the end result, and for me, the pizza was edible (which is about as big a compliment as I can ever give pizza). It was a much more interesting flavor and a million times more appealing to me than typical pizza.
So for ‘cheese substitute’ I give it a 2/5. For tasty topping it would be a good 4 maybe even nudge a 5 stars for me.
Where can I buy it?
Most health food shops or even the health aisles of your grocery store are likely to have it. Of course Amazon is also easy peasy. This is the brand I’m currently using Bragg and I also like Bob’s Red Mill brand.
The final word
While I think calling nutritional yeast, or yeshi, a ‘cheese substitute’ is a bit of a stretch, it’s going to remain a pantry staple for us and I look forward to using it as a seasoning and trying out some new ideas. I have seen some great nut ‘cheese’ recipes with it which look interesting, I’ll just call them nut spreads!