Of all the ingredients I use in my recipes, the one I’m asked about the most is nutritional yeast. I’ve been cooking with it for so long that I forget how strange it must sound to people who are new to vegan cooking. Neither the word “nutritional” nor the word “yeast” conjures up mouthwatering images, but the truth is, it’s one of the few “health food store” ingredients that I wouldn’t want to have to do without, not because of its nutritional value, but because of its flavor. So what is it, why should you use it, and where can you find it?
What Nutritional Yeast Is
Nutritional yeast is a food additive made from a single-celled organism, Saccharomyces Cerevisiae, which is grown on molasses and then harvested, washed, and dried with heat to kill or “deactivate” it. Because it’s inactive, it doesn’t froth or grow like baking yeast does so it has no leavening ability. Don’t worry; no animals are harmed in this process because yeasts are members of the fungi family, like mushrooms, not animals.
Nutritional yeast has such an unappealing name that somebody started calling it “nooch” and the name caught on in some corners of the internet. The brand that most vegans use is Red Star Vegetarian Support Formula because it is a good source of vitamin B12 and contains no whey, an animal product that is used in some other brands. In the U.K., nutritional yeast is sold under the Engevita brand and in Australia as savory yeast flakes.
What It Isn’t
Nutritional yeast is not the same as brewer’s yeast, which is a product of the beer-making process and is very bitter. It’s also not Torula yeast, which is grown on paper-mill waste and is also not very tasty. And please do not try to substitute active dry yeast or baking yeast, which taste bad and will probably make a huge, frothy mess because their yeasts are alive.
Where Can I Find Nutritional Yeast?
You probably won’t be able to find nutritional yeast in a typical grocery store. I buy it from the bulk bins at the local natural food store, where it is labeled “Vegetarian Support Formula.” Larger grocery stores might have Bob’s Red Mill or Braggs brand in the natural food section. If you can’t find it locally, Amazon has several brands, including Foods Alive and Sari, which aren’t fortified (more on that later.) Some brands of nutritional yeast taste better than others, so if you can, buy a little and taste it first; if you don’t like it, try another brand.
I use the flaked version of nutritional yeast, but it’s also available in a powder. If you’re using the powder, you will need only about half as much as the flakes.
Why Use It?
As you can guess from its name, nutritional yeast is packed with nutrition, particularly B-vitamins, folic acid, selenium, zinc, and protein. It’s low in fat, is gluten-free (check specific brands for certification), and contains no added sugars or preservatives. Because vitamin B12 is absent from plant foods unless it’s added as a supplement, nutritional yeast that contains B12, such as Red Star Vegetarian Support Formula, is often added to the vegan diet just to get that one nutrient (though I strongly recommend taking a supplement as the only way to be sure you’re getting enough). Not all nooch has B12, so check the label carefully before buying, and be aware that concerns have been raised over Folic acid, which is often added along with B12.
The vitamins and minerals are all well and good, but truthfully, most people use nutritional yeast for its flavor.
How Does Nutritional Yeast Taste?
Nutritional yeast has a flavor that has been described as cheesy, nutty, savory, and “umami.” Just a tablespoon or two can add richness to soups, gravies, and other dishes, and larger amounts can make “cheese” sauces and eggless scrambles taste cheesy and eggy.
Adding a small amount of nutritional yeast to a dish enhances the flavors present and helps form a rich flavor base.
If for some reason you can’t find nutritional yeast or can’t use it, you can safely leave it out of recipes where it’s used in small amounts as only a flavor enhancer; in some cases, miso or soy sauce can be used in a 1:3 ratio (1/3 of the amount of nooch called for), though both add sodium, so you may need to reduce the salt. In recipes where nutritional yeast provides the bulk of the flavor, such as vegan cheese sauces, it’s best not to attempt to substitute it.
Does It Contain MSG?
No. The savory, umami taste of nutritional yeast comes from glutamaic acid, an amino acid that is formed during the drying process. Glutamic acid is a naturally occurring amino acid found in many fruits and vegetables and is not the same as the commercial additive monosodium glutamate.
How Do You Use Nutritional Yeast?
If you’re new to nutritional yeast, it’s better to try it a little at a time rather than to dive right into a recipe that uses a lot of it. Try some of the suggestions below, using just a little until you develop a taste for it:
- Sprinkle it on popcorn.
- Stir it into mashed potatoes.
- Add a little to the cooking water for “cheesy grits” or polenta.
- Sprinkle on any pasta dish.
- Make almond “parmesan” by blending nutritional yeast with raw almonds in a food processor.
- Add a tablespoon or two to bean dishes to enhance flavors.
For a Savory or “Poultry” Flavor:
These recipes use small amounts of nutritional yeast to form a flavor base and are good for beginning users.
For a Cheesy Flavor:
In many of these recipes, nutritional yeast is a central ingredient adding much of the flavor. Leaving it out isn’t advised.
For an Eggy-Cheesy Flavor:
Nutritional yeast contributes a lot of flavor to these tofu-based “egg” dishes.
For More Nutritional Yeast Information:
- The Nutritional Yeast Cookbook by Joanne Stepaniak
- The New Farm Vegetarian Cookbook by Louise Hagler and Dorothy R. Bates
- Nutritional Yeast at Bulkfoods.com
- Ask Alisa: What is nutritional yeast and how does it taste?
Update 11/2014: There have been studies (such as this one and this one) that raise the concern that high amounts of synthetic folic acid may increase the risk of breast cancer. Most brands of nutritional yeast do contain added folic acid in varying amounts. If you are concerned about this, read labels carefully and choose brands that contain as little as possible. I know of three brands of nutritional yeast that don’t contain synthetic folic acid: Sari Foods, KAL Unfortified Yeast Flakes, and Foods Alive Non-synthetic Nutritional Yeast, which is what I use in all my cooking (Sari is expensive and I’m not a fan of KAL’s flavor.) If you know of other brands, please leave details in the comments.
Update 3/2017: Recently, a vegan magazine claimed on its blog that nutritional yeast is under attack by the EPA. The article got a lot of vegans worked up with insinuations that veganism is being targeted. It was all based on a misreading (or not reading at all) of proposed amendments to the EPA rules on the manufacture of both baker’s and nutritional yeast. The rules are not new and were put in place to protect workers and the environment from carcinogens formed when large factories make these types of yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae). Please, if you see the article being posted, know that nutritional yeast is not under threat, the price will not be rising (unless people start hoarding it), and it is not going off the market. Don’t buy into the hysteria. Here is a link to the EPA page with all the necessary documents, so you can read it for yourself: https://www.epa.gov/stationary-sources-air-pollution/manufacturing-nutritional-yeast-national-emission-standards.
What’s Your Favorite Use?
Please share your favorite ways to use nutritional yeast in the comments below.
This post contains affiliate links to Amazon. When you buy something through them, I receive a few pennies that help keep this site alive and kicking. Thank you!
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Getty StewartOctober 10, 2016 at 11:24 am
Thanks for a great, easy to understand explanation of nutritional yeast. I’ve added a link to this page on one of my blog posts as nutritional yeast is likely new to many of my readers.
All the best!
Susan VoisinOctober 10, 2016 at 11:28 am
Rick SimonNovember 14, 2016 at 9:38 pm
I looked into “nooch” as part of vegan/vegetarian recipes for my daughter and her vegan roommate as well as for my church’s meal ministry to nursery school parents. I had thought of making a vegan “beet-loaf” for a niece long before I considered doing it for anyone else. I am glad I now have a way of getting that umami taste that I thought had to be done with mushrooms.
WayDecember 7, 2016 at 7:37 pm
I just realised the nutritional yeast flakes stored in my kitchen has turned color – they look exactly like cocoa powder! I tried to research this online but it seems noone ever discussed about it. I believe it’s no longer editable as the colour has changed from yellow to dark brown (similar to colour of cocoa powder) or perhaps lost its nutrients. Can anyone tell me why does this happen?
Susan VoisinDecember 7, 2016 at 8:28 pm
Perhaps they got too hot, but whatever the reason, I hope you dispose of them.
WayDecember 8, 2016 at 9:46 am
Yes, I did. Thanks for your reply! Perhaps I placed it too close to the pan/heat while I was cooking!!
Jermaine AquinoDecember 9, 2016 at 9:14 am
Thank you for all the information about nutritional yeast. You mention that you use the flakes, why so over the powder? I plan to try it on popcorn which I have almost every day, I pop in an hot air popper.
Also can you recommend a supplement to take. I am eating closer to vegan not 100%, I do like tuna sandwiches and seafood.
Thank so much,
Sunayana DeviDecember 22, 2016 at 3:52 pm
Can we use this yeast for making bread?
Susan VoisinDecember 22, 2016 at 4:00 pm
No, this type of yeast does not make bread rise.
CesareJanuary 5, 2017 at 4:30 am
Hello! Thank you for the article. You said that nutritional yeast is not the same as brewer’s yeast. I’m in Italy and I found this flakes yeast that’s called brewer’s yeast and that is obtained by culture of selected strains of Saccharomyces cerevisiae of beet molasses. Without addition of sweeteners, it is dried by a process that ensures the rupture of the cell wall for a complete assimilation of the nutrients contained therein.
Is this nutritional yeast?
Ingredients list say this: brewer’s yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae), dried without fermentation power.
– And the nutritional values are:
Folic Acid 3
Fibre grams 24.8
Sugars (g) 6.2
Carbs (g) 31
Energy 432 Kcal
Fats (g) 6
NA (g) 0.052
Proteins (g) 51
Saturated fatty acids (g) 2.1
Vitamin B1 (mg) 50
Vitamin B2 (mg) 5
Vitamin B6 (mg) 4
– Usage advice say: Excellent dressing for the daily supply. Ideal for flavoring dishes of cereals, vegetables and soups.
It’s here: http://lafinestrasulcielo.it/it/prodotti/no-food/integratori-alimentari/lievito-di-birra-scaglie-1lievi/
Thank you for any info and have a nice day!
Susan VoisinJanuary 5, 2017 at 7:47 am
It sounds like what you found may be nutritional yeast. Sometimes nutritional yeast is labeled as brewer’s yeast, making for a complicated situation. If it has a pleasant taste, not bitter, then you should be able to use it in recipes calling for nutritional yeast.
MelissaApril 11, 2017 at 6:53 pm
Very well-written and informative. I confess I am still scared to try it, but your article is helping to motivate me to dive in. 😉
Chrissy RussellJanuary 8, 2020 at 9:43 am
Oooh dont be scared to try it. I am not vegan but I LOVE this! I use it on rice cakes or high fibre crackers, and crunchy peanut butter. Tasty combination!
PattKApril 18, 2017 at 10:26 am
Thanks for updating this post as new or ill-sourced information hits the market. Much appreciated!
BETTY BARNETTApril 23, 2017 at 11:11 am
I have a severe allergy to additives and preservatives and am always concerned about a product I am not familiar with. Is this product, nutritional yeast, like the flavor enhancer yeast extract that is in so many processed foods?
Thanking you in advance to your speedy response.
Susan VoisinApril 23, 2017 at 11:59 am
I suspect that the yeast extract is a more processed version of nutritional yeast, more concentrated.
LAJuly 29, 2017 at 9:45 am
There is an amazing recipe for creamy salad dresssing using nutritional yeast 1/2c.hemp hearts, 1/2c.water.some fresh garlic, 2tbl. Nutrional yeast, some lemon and blend in a high speed blender, I use the Nutri Bullet . It is creamy and delicious. I put mine in a covered glass jar that I cleaned and saved from something else . This yummy and healthy salad dressing will thicken as it stays in the refrigerator ! It is so good !
Desiree NistaAugust 6, 2017 at 10:46 am
BonnieAugust 24, 2017 at 12:38 pm
Is nutritional yeast lectin free or autoimmune diet safe?
RosanneOctober 26, 2017 at 3:08 pm
The latest reports say that cobalt – based B 12 is carcinogenic. Are any of the yeasts that you report on here free from cobalt – based B 12?
lynetteDecember 10, 2017 at 6:30 pm
Great article, and thank you for the 2017 update. I love the name “nooch” too!
Dag-ajDecember 27, 2017 at 4:53 pm
Great information on Nutritional yeast. Only big question I’ve not been able to find answers to is about the molasses used to grow the yeast on. There are two kinds of molasses, one made from sugar cane, and one made from sugar beet. The sugar beet one is at a very high risk of being made from 100% genetically engineered sugar beets. 95% of sugar beets in North America are genetically engineered. I personally would not want to eat nutritional yeast that is grown on sugar beet molasses. Yet no brand tells anything about the type of molasses used or if it’s genetically engineered? I also would love to find a nutritional yeast that is grown on organic sugarcane molasses. Surely there is risk of pesticide residues in the substrate affecting the nutritional yeast. Can you help shed some light on this?
Mercedes PeredaJanuary 4, 2018 at 9:55 pm
This was so informative,
Thank you I really appreciate it😊
DebJanuary 20, 2018 at 3:27 pm
Okay what do you substitute when you can not eat tofu because it’s saw and because of the cancer I had I can’t eat soy
kim robinsonJanuary 24, 2018 at 5:09 pm
1. does nutritional yeast contribute to yeast infections?
2. vitamin suppliments (b12 too), upset my stomach–i have this hypersalivation thing called salaria when i take vitamins–odd, but true. you said to add suppliments in case? any othersuggestions?
Bri LavoieFebruary 17, 2018 at 4:35 pm
You were doing so well and then you went off into « making up the chemistry as I go » territory. Seriously, glutamate is the predominant counter ion in all living cells, so you bet yeast and all cells are loaded with it. Glutamic acid is merely the acidic form, and at physiological pH will be ionized…ie in the glutamate form. No it isn’t added extra, but naturally occuring doesn’t mean it isnt there.
RamaFebruary 20, 2018 at 11:17 am
Thank you so much. I’ve been looking for something to substitute cheese, as my son is allergic to casein. This information is going to change a lot of things for my son, especially variety in food.
GGOctober 29, 2019 at 12:54 am
Well cheese in children increase bowel issues especially constipation, blockages, tension in bowel stream plus sodium is too high!
Pesto…..tomato pesto, hummus
These all encourage healthy bowel
Grace EdelstenApril 12, 2018 at 6:42 am
Nutritional yeast lists it has folic acid in it. For people like me who have a gene mutation called MTHFR we can’t have FOLIC ACID. We can have folate or folinic acid, but not FOLIC ACID. We can’t assimilate it and it builds up and becomes toxic in our bodies causing a lot of health problems.
Tell me, in Nutritional yeast is it indeed FOLIC ACID, or is it FOLATE or FOLINIC ACID? I love the taste of the stuff, but am afraid to eat it because of the consequences. If it is one of the other two, I could have it.
The reason I asked is because another wonderful product which listed Folic Acid, when questioned they said, sorry it is Folate – so I could use it.
Look forward to hearing from you.
JohnMay 5, 2018 at 8:16 am
Food yeast is more than 50% protein, so they can be used as a substitute for meat and fish. The characteristic “cheese” taste allows you to add them to pizza, casseroles, sauces, omelettes, pasta and other dishes. They also reduce cholesterol, normalize the pressure and intestinal motility, while improving its microflora, and also act as a prevention of pancreatic cancer. Dry yeast struggles with anemia, strengthens immunity and eliminates dysbacteriosis. But the most interesting are beer yeast, the benefits and positive properties of which are very diverse.
JeshuaJanuary 17, 2019 at 7:20 pm
I am looking forward to start my own brand of nutritional yeast. In my country’s economy importing the product is not an option, so I would be very happy if anyone knows the process of making nutritional yeast & explain it to me, as I couldn’t find this info anywhere so far 🙂
Please, if you truly want a more vegan world, help by sharing the info.
Thanks for the information🙏🏽
LezlyFebruary 7, 2019 at 11:47 am
I add nutritional yeast flakes to my gravy & a lot of sauces. I have a Dijon/nutritional yeast scalloped potato recipe that is as good as any dairy cheese dish. I add nutritional yeast flakes to my biscuits. They are a lovely golden color & taste fantastic. My cat loves the inside of these biscuits & always comes around when she smells them baking. I mix nutritional yeast flakes with herbs & add to my miso drink, which is really good on an upset stomach or on a cold morning. It’s a flavor that has really grown on me over the years.
AlmaFebruary 16, 2019 at 6:42 am
Serendipity or what???
I bought some portobello mushrooms the other day (I have been a vegetarian for 40 years ) and whilst I crack an egg into them and cook it in an air fryer for breakfast, as at somewhat of a loss with what to do with them other than that.
So I googled and found your site. Brilliant. I am having the sprouts and mushrooms (without the fennel) tonight
Then I saw some of your recipes contain Nutritional Yeast, which I had never heard of. So I read your page “What the heck is Nutritional Yeast “, and recalled that I have been found to be Vit B deficient in the past. I do take supplements now.
So that was yesterday, today I went to Tesco (a large chain supermarket) and whilst looking for vegetable bouillon powder came across a tub of nutritional yeast flakes just lying on the shelf, obviously discarded by a customer. So I bought and look forward to trying out your recipes which call for it.
KELLYFebruary 26, 2019 at 9:51 pm
REALLY GREAT INFORMATION! AS WELL AS THE WONDERFUL ROUND UP OF RECIPES!, THANKS.
sallyjrwApril 11, 2019 at 11:11 am
I read through all these comments and found some great ideas for nutritional yeast. I did see a few people who said they didn’t like it. I was the same way until someone hipped me to non-fortified nutritional yeast! I buy Sari Foods Non-fortified nutritional yeast and it’s not bitter at all. I keep it in the fridge and use it mostly to make punk rock chickpea gravy. Yum!
SerenaJune 17, 2019 at 10:12 am
I used to battle frequent yeast infections when I was younger. Not so much anymore, but I have to admit I am scared to death to try this. I am brand new to vegan cooking, just started today and going from straight meat eater to vegan. Maybe one day I will venture into the scary territory known as nutritional yeast but for now I think I will just try to avoid it.
DragonAugust 31, 2019 at 1:05 am
Nutritional yeast will not contribute to yeast infections, as the yeast in the flakes has been killed. It does not grow, multiply, and colonize, therefore it is perfectly safe to consume without causing infections of any kind.
GGOctober 29, 2019 at 1:02 am
Yeast infection is a cross contamination in the private female area which is contributed to unclean hands, fingers garments: unclean practices of sexual nature, tampon issues…use of certain antibiotics or frequent urinary tract infections.
Nutritional yeast is a food which is deactivated, sterile so to say ” non growth”.././/./ No connection to ” yeast infections
HammyMay 22, 2020 at 11:47 pm
Thanks for the explanation, this was so helpful. I’m experimenting with vegan recipes and needed this.
Geri GreyDecember 10, 2020 at 11:18 am
I use and really like the taste of Blue Bonnet Super Earth Brewers Yeast (it’s really nutritional yeast) It is not fortified.
Matt FreundJanuary 19, 2021 at 2:53 pm
Thanks for the interesting article. Good read and very informative.
Glenn McConnellJanuary 30, 2021 at 1:23 pm
I suffer from gout and have altered my diet to eliminate or limit brewers yeast and bakers yeast. Should I have the same concern with nutritional yeast?
Adaobi IfeachorJuly 17, 2021 at 1:48 pm
Thanks. I would have been lost without this blog post. A big help to have the UK brand name included.
Nichole KingAugust 26, 2021 at 9:57 am
Just a quick note that unfortified nutritional yeast has folic acid in it too because it’s active dry yeast deactivated and that has 3/4 of the amount of folic acid as the fortified nutritional yeast that you mention.
You can make unfortified nutritional yeast by deactivating active dry yeast. You can describe the yeast by methods like heating it… Can heat it in a pan for example, but the result is probably not as high quality as what you’ve recommended buying online or in the store.
Thanks for your helpful blog. I keep looking for restaurants that make food like your recipes, but they’re rare.