Nutritional yeast is a flaky, edible product that is available in two forms: fortified and unfortified. Many people who follow a vegan diet rely on the fortified option to help them meet their vitamin B12 requirements. However, many people could benefit from adding nutritional yeast to their diet — even if they already eat meat. Keep reading to learn more about nutritional yeast and how to incorporate it into your cooking.
Nutritional yeast is a man-made food product that is popular in vegan cooking.
The flavor of nutritional yeast is nutty and sometimes cheesy, and the product is highly versatile in recipes.
Fortified varieties are rich in B vitamins, including vitamin B12, which is essential for healthy blood cells.
What is nutritional yeast?
Nutritional yeast is a deactivated form of yeast that adds a mild nutty flavor to cooking. It is a plant-based product that is very popular in vegan cooking because most varieties are fortified with vitamin B12, a vitamin that is hard to consume if you eliminate all animal products.
Nutritional yeast is light, flaky, and typically bright yellow in color. It can be sprinkled on salads, baked vegetables, and any other dish that benefits from a comforting nutty or cheesy flavor.
Why is nutritional yeast popular in vegan diets?
Many people who follow a vegan diet rely on nutritional yeast to help them meet their vitamin B12 requirements. This vitamin is naturally available from animal products and by-products, and following a vegan diet eliminates those food options.
If you follow a vegan diet, you should use fortified products (such as nutritional yeast) to maintain healthy vitamin levels and prevent B12 anemia. Other options include fortified plant-based milk, fortified soy products, and some fortified breakfast cereals.
Who can benefit from eating nutritional yeast?
Anybody can benefit from eating nutritional yeast, whether you eat a vegan diet or you are omnivorous. If you are concerned about your B12 levels and can’t tolerate eating more animal-based products, consider adding nutritional yeast to your weekly meals.
However, you don’t need to add nutritional yeast to a dish containing animal meat, such as chili con carne or chicken salad, because it is likely already sufficient in B12. If you make a plant-based meal with tofu and chickpeas, you may benefit from sprinkling a small amount of nutritional yeast on the meal.
Follow the instructions on nutritional yeast and stay within the recommended serving size.
Is nutritional yeast healthy?
Edible nutritional yeast is man-made and specifically created to be a food product. The yeast cells, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, are grown on a sugary medium and harvested. Then, the yeast cells are denatured and become inactive, and the resulting powder is rich in flavor and texture.
Unfortified yeast will contain nutrition that has naturally developed within the food product. The nutritional profile of this option is very limited, and it does not contain any B12, which is a significant gap in nutrition. If you are at risk for low B12, you should skip this product and choose a fortified option.
Fortified nutritional yeast contains:
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin B1
- Vitamin B3
- Vitamin B6
- Trace amounts of manganese, selenium, and zinc
Some versions of nutritional yeast may also have small amounts of extra protein, but very little. You should not rely on nutritional yeast as your protein source, but adding it to your meals can increase the B vitamins present in your dish.
How to eat nutritional yeast
One serving of nutritional yeast can be 2–4 tablespoons, depending on the brand. You should review the package to familiarize yourself with how much you should add to your dishes. Here are some ideas for how to incorporate nutritional yeast into your diet:
- Salads. Sprinkle onto fresh salads and toss with dressing.
- Dips. Add to hummus and other homemade dips.
- Chips. Make kale chips in the oven, dusted with nutritional yeast and lemon juice.
- Soups. Sprinkle onto stews and soups.
- Pasta. Add flakes to pasta dishes or warm rice meals.
- Popcorn. Decorate popcorn with olive oil and nutritional yeast.
You do not have to cook nutritional yeast before eating (unless specifically indicated on the package). For most brands, you can garnish your meal with nutritional yeast and eat it immediately.
Does it expire?
There are no research publications on the shelf-life of nutritional yeast, but manufacturers suggest the product can safely last up to two years.
You can check the freshness of your nutritional yeast by examining the color — anything dark brown and clumpy (instead of bright yellow and flakey) is a sign it’s time to throw out the batch. Pay attention to smell as well — anything sour, vinegary, or smelling of malt should be tossed out.
How to store nutritional yeast correctly
Store your nutritional yeast in an airtight container, and try to keep it out of direct sunlight. The antioxidants are sensitive to UV rays, and storing it in a cupboard or pantry closet will preserve the delicate nutrients in the product.
It is a dry product, and it should remain dry. Avoid using a wet spoon when serving yourself, and ensure the vessel is properly sealed before storing.
Try something new
Plant-based diets are trending in the healthcare world because new research confirms a diet with less meat and more plant-based options supports better health outcomes. This includes a reduction in cholesterol and other cardiometabolic parameters, and research has even shown that a plant-based diet can reduce the risk of different forms of cancer.
You don’t have to follow a fully vegan diet to embrace plant-based eating. Prioritize more plant-based proteins whenever possible, but also try to include whole grains and unprocessed foods whenever possible. Nutritional yeast is a great example of a food product that is accessible, tasty, and fits into a plant-based diet.
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Vitamin B12 - Deficiency Anemia.
- Nutrients. The Safe and Effective Use of Plant-Based Diets with Guidelines for Health Professionals.
- USDA Nutrient Database. Nutritional Yeast.